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Friends, in today’s Gospel, a man who appears willing to become Jesus’ disciple makes a reasonable request: “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But the man receives a shocking rebuke from Jesus: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

What is more important than the mission? Nothing. Not even one of the most sacred and revered practices of our society: piety toward our dead relatives. Could you imagine a scenario in which you wouldn’t give permission to someone to attend his father’s or mother’s funeral? 

I don’t want to soften Jesus’ words or explain them away or contextualize them. They are what they are, and they’re harsh, for the man in his own time and for us. But they compel us to make a decision: Are we finally about the things of God or about something else? Is religion and the mission attached to it substantial for us, or merely decorative?  

Now mind you, we don’t usually have to make such a terrible choice. Normally, our love for God and our love for family don’t come into conflict. But this is a sort of spiritual exercise, an experiment. What if it came down to God or my family? Whom would I choose?