Matthew 8: 21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
If you have a desire to be an elite athlete, that particular sport and your overall fitness, must be a priority in your life. If you look behind the life of even the most gifted athletes in the world where it appears that everything came easy, like a Usain Bolt, a Steph Curry, or a Diana Taurasi, what you find is an athlete who prioritized their sport and sacrificed much. “Probably the largest sacrifice is time. Time away from family, friends and time away from other pursuits. Countless hours spent riding, running, swimming and or strength training.” http://positiveperformancecoaching.com/2013/11/27/sacrafice-traits-of-great-athletes/
I remember when one of my good friends decided to compete in the Hawaii Ironman; training had to become a priority in his life. For over a year Doug’s “free time” was filled with early morning lane swims, and night time runs or multi-hour bike rides. There was no way around it, if he was going to reach his goal in this ultra triathlon, it was going to have to be a priority and he sacrificed much.
Today’s scripture passage has been one of those very difficult ones for me to understand. Specifically, Matthew 8: 21-22. “Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” Jesus’ response seems so callous and inconsistent with the Jesus I see elsewhere. The same Jesus who said “honor your father and mother” (Matthew 15:4). The same Jesus who made sure his mother would be well taken care of as he hung on the cross (John 19: 26-27); and the same Jesus who wept when he arrived at the tomb of his dead friend Lazarus (John 11: 35-36). In a recent sermon, my pastor, Dan Allen, had some very interesting insights into this passage that made a great deal of sense to me. Apparently, the Jewish tradition of the time, would require that a funeral be performed hours after a death, so it is extremely unlikely that this disciple’s father had yet died. He wouldn’t have been wandering around the countryside; he’d be completing funeral preparations at home. Using this logic, what the disciple was saying was: “let me go back to my house and live there with my father for as many years as he still lives and then when he passes and his estate is settled and I get my portion, then I will be ready to follow you”. Jesus’ response now seems much more consistent with the broader context of his life, but nonetheless it remains a tough message.
Jesus is looking for us to make sacrifices. I don’t think we should be too quick to criticize the disciple in this story. How often are we putting conditions on God? Lord I’ll follow you wherever you send me, but just let me first finish school, or get married, or become an elite athlete. I will then follow you. If you are pursuing elite sport, there is no way around it, it will have to be a priority, but may it never become THE priority. There must never be a “conditional BUT” when you are talking about your service for Jesus. If elite sports is part of His plan in your life – fantastic. However, it may not be, and you must hold on to sports and everything else in this world with an open hand. Can you honestly pray: “Lord I hold my hand open to all you have given me and I am willing to sacrifice all for you. For you Lord are my priority!”