For a very long time this verse from Scripture as spoken my Jesus (Matthew 8 21:22) I thought meant that we should not mourn for the dead or be overly concern with visiting the dead because they are, as we hope in a better place with Our Father in heaven. However if they are in purgatory, then we should pray for their souls but either way they have departed and so we should concern ourselves with living our lives according to God’s will. Also we should only concern ourselves with helping the ‘living poor’ those who are starving whether physically or emotionally. Charity for the Living so to speak.
Although there maybe a tiny bit of truth in my thoughts on the subject above, I have finally found a better and more complete answer written by Raymond Lloyd Richmond. Honoring and respecting the dead apart from our Christian sensibilities is what makes us Human. Let’s see what Raymond says……
Now, to understand the meaning of this passage, you first have to put it in its historical context.
The Historical Context:
Leaving the Spiritually Dead World Behind
Jesus was leading His disciples to Jerusalem—to His Passion and death on a cross, and, ultimately, to His Resurrection and the establishment of the Church. Thus Jerusalem represents not only Heaven but also the Way of the Cross as the only way to enter Heaven. Jesus makes it clear, then, that this journey to Jerusalem is not just some vacation pilgrimage. To follow Him means to give up everything: to “die” to the past and, with resolute determination, to turn full attention to the journey ahead.
In this passage, Christ was speaking to a man who—intellectually, at least—wanted to become a disciple, but who in his heart wanted to secure for himself his family inheritance. To go back and bury his father meant to arrange things so that when his father died, he would be secure. Christ knew all of this, so He said what He said, speaking directly to the lack of true faith in this man’s heart.
Letting the “dead bury the dead” means, therefore, to make a clear and total break with the spiritually dead—that is, with the spiritually “dead” world you’re leaving behind. When you resolve to travel to “Jerusalem,” you can’t look back. In that moment of conversion, the past means nothing, and the future becomes everything.
Our Real Social Obligations
Now, to us, in the world today, this passage has an additional—a psychological—meaning. Christians today must follow Jesus inspirit, not along a real dusty road to a real city plodding along behind the actual historical Jesus. So, yes, to follow Him in spirit we do have to die to the past, but we also have our real lives in this world with real social obligations. When our parents die, we really do have to bury them.
But there is more to life than its literal social obligations.
The Desire for Love and Recognition
“Letting the dead bury the dead” means that to live a genuine Christian life we have to give up our psychological desire to make the world—the spiritually “dead”—give us the love and recognition we believe we deserve.
Let me explain.
Let’s assume, for example, that your father is an alcoholic, or that your mother is a sort of professional “victim,” always complaining of being mistreated and treating everyone else with an acid tongue. Or maybe your parents weren’t quite this bad, but maybe they misunderstood you in other, more subtle, ways. In any event, you have been wounded deeply, and you have suffered greatly because of the inconsiderate behavior of others. You have felt unnoticed, unheard, and unloved. You have felt abandoned. You have felt rejected. So what can you do?
Well, in the past, as a result of all the hurt that was ever inflicted on you, just like your parents perhaps, you felt victimized. You complained about how poorly you were treated. And, in those complaints, you wanted unconsciously to show them—and the rest of the world around you—how much you have been hurt. And, in wanting to show them how much you have been hurt, you have wanted compensation—and, in some ways, you have wanted a compensation that is actually a form of revenge.
OK. So that’s what you have done according to the ways of theworld. You have done what everyone does in law, and politics, and sports: feel victimized and demand satisfaction for your hurt. And if you can’t get that satisfaction, you will become depressed and seek out erotic pleasure or drugs or alcohol or food to try to satisfy yourself. Or, you will try to tear down the Church through heresyand disobedience.
An End to Victimization
What does Jesus do when his disciples want to call down fire from heaven to avenge the insult they have received? Jesus rebukes them. (See Luke 9:54-55.)
That is, as a Christian, you have to respond to your hurt by “letting the dead bury the dead.” In other words, you have to stop trying to make the spiritually dead—your mother, your father, and anyone else who has ever hurt you—“love” you or give you the recognition you so desperately crave. Whenever you are injured, you have to realize that you cannot call down fire from heaven to avenge yourself. You cannot make the world treat you fairly. You cannot make the world love you. You cannot make the world notice you. Instead, you have to turn all your attention, with resolution and determination, to the real destination of your life: Jerusalem. Jerusalem, where all victimization must end, and where sufferingand death on a cross for the sake of others is the only path to true love—and the Kingdom of Heaven.
So there you have it. In the end, as you say, “I can’t do this”—but the full truth is that you can’t do it alone, without the grace of following Jesus to Jerusalem.
If you follow Jesus, you will have life.
If you reject Him, you are dead. Only the spiritually dead are concerned about their affairs in this world, so if you turn from Christ to go back and arrange things so that you can draw benefit from the world, you are dead. You are the dead trying to bury the dead.
Therefore, if you “complain” about how much you are being tested, you are dead. You’re simply defending your pride, feeling sorry for yourself and demanding that the world notice your pain. But being a Christian involves recognizing your feelings of hurt and then resolving to speak about them charitably and calmly withoutdemanding anything. If others listen to you, fine. Work with them to find a solution to the problem, as you have done by writing to me. And if they fail to hear you, well, pray for their repentance and let the dead bury the dead.
Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.