JUNE 30, 2003, 
HOMILY- MATTHEW 8: 16-22 

LORD, ALLOW ME TO GO AND BURY MY FATHER FIRST.  JESUS ANSWERED: ‘LEAVE THE DEAD TO BURY THE DEAD; COME, FOLLOW ME.’ Jesus has left a very demanding legacy to his followers, to learn from him to be truly meek and humble of heart. Anyone who has tried to live out this directive has learned how exacting it proves to be at times. Who can accept to be insulted, treated with contempt, see his rights violated, disobeyed by those owing respectful obedience and not feel inclined to retaliate with anger? Our Lord, however, suffered all these things and far worse, on the part of those who should have welcomed him as their Savior, and yet he submitted with gentle and loving meekness. 

However, there is another side to his character and teaching that is all too readily passed over, even ignored. Today’s Gospel text exemplifies this feature in a rather shocking expression.: ‘LEAVE THE DEAD TO BURY THE DEAD; COME, FOLLOW ME.’ All of us here come from loving families or we would not be here. Our parents not only brought us into the world and provided for us in keeping with their means, often denying themselves in order that we might not lack education and other benefits that have made our lives more agreeable. None among us is insensitive to the respect and concern we owe to our mother and father by virtue of a law of nature firmly implanted in our soul as well as by virtue of a commandment of God and of the teaching of Jesus himself. All persons possessed of even a minimum of filial piety feel a special obligation to provide an honorable burial for their father and mother. And so it is not surprising that this point of teaching of our Lord is rarely given a prominent place in our thinking and our behavior. And yet here today we are confronted with it once again; it is firmly embedded in the Gospels for all who read and hear to take to heart. Nor is this the only passage inculcating the lesson that we must let nothing interfere with our response to God’s call.  

We know, nonetheless, from our Lord himself, that he was deeply concerned for his own mother. His very last act in this world was to provide for her future before he died.  His own suffering and the nearness of death could not cause him to forget her needs. And yet, he freely parted from her because it was his Father’s will that he separate from her and all those he loved in this world.  

Here is the lesson he wished to inculcate in all his followers. We are to prefer nothing to obedience to the Father. When He calls we must answer at whatever cost. It is dangerous to delay for the world and its cares so quickly submerges the voice of God heard in the heart. As St. Benedict puts it in his Rule for Monasteries: The true Christian should ‘prefer nothing to the love of Christ.’  Not father or mother, not brother or sister, nor any other thing or person. For God has made us for himself and we owe all we are and all we have to him. May we have his grace always to obey His voice heard in the depth of our heart.

  Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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