What do you think Jesus meant when he said to let the dead bury their dead? Do you think that it is a sin to grieve? It seems like it is against the Scriptures that tell what you should think about (everything that is “honest, pure”), but it also doesn’t seem like it would be healthy to always fight it.
In a well-known passage in the Old Testament, the Bible tells us, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven … A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance …” (Eccl. 3:1, 4 ESV). Thus, although people rarely think about it or mean it when they use the phrase, there is such a thing as “good grief.”
Christian teaching in the New Testament on grieving is unambiguous. We rejoice with those who rejoice but weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). We grieve, but we are not to “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). Indeed, our grief becomes a source of strength to others because the “God of all comfort … comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:3–4).
The words of Jesus in Matthew 8:21–22 and Luke 9:59–60 do not present comprehensive Christian teaching on either grief or ministry to the grieving. As a matter of fact, they have little or nothing to do with grief. In hard-hitting language, Jesus makes clear that following him takes precedence over all other loyalties. Discipleship must not be delayed for any reason. Obedience to his call must be immediate.
The language “leave the dead to bury their own dead” is difficult to interpret. However, the thought of dead people burying dead people should tip us off that Jesus is not condemning grief. Indeed, “Jesus wept” at Lazarus’ grave (John 11:30). Perhaps the somewhat puzzling words that you quote mean that those who are dead spiritually are the ones whose thoughts are monopolized by physical death and, hence, consumed with planning funerals. Their thoughts are not on the kingdom of Christ and the age to come but on this present evil age. And this, too, is a cause for grief, because our Savior looked on unrepentant Jerusalem and wept (Luke 19:41).
When the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8 tells Christians to think on whatever is true, noble, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, he certainly means us to include Christ in our meditation. But Christ was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).
Our Savior grieved. Christians grieve too.
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