In the gospels Jesus (Yeshua) made some statements that sound very disturbing to readers. One of these was directed to a man who asked for some time before making the commitment of becoming a full disciple. He said he needed to bury his father first. Jesus answered in a surprising way, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60).
He explained, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). In other words, one cannot keep looking back and still plow straight. Similarly, the proclamation of the kingdom of God requires one’s full and urgent commitment.
But how could Israel’s Messiah possibly call upon His followers to disobey one of the Ten Commandments – honoring one’s father (Exod. 20:12)? One plausible explanation has to do with the first-century Jewish practice of a secondary burial. The first part of burial consisted in placing the deceased in a cave for a prolonged period of time. After the complete decomposition of the body, only the bones would remain.
At this point people trained in the relevant Jewish traditions would collect the bones and place them in an ossuary “bone box”. The ossuary would then be deposited into its final resting place in another cave or tomb that housed many such boxes.
So Jesus did not require the man to neglect his father’s burial. Rather, He simply suggested that professionals trained in dealing with corpses could themselves transfer the bones when the right time came. The man did not need to delay for a long time but could become a disciple right away if he really wanted to do so. A vast majority of the ceremonies had already taken place at the 1st burial.
“Let the Dead Bury the Dead” *From class notes on the Jewish Context and Culture, from the Israel Bible Center, Israel
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