In both yesterday and today’s gospel we heard Christ’s calling various people to follow him, and their making excuses instead of immediately doing so. (Yesterday was from the Gospel of Luke and today from Matthew.) One of those famous excuses was that the person had first to go and bury his father, to which our Lord replied, “Let the dead bury their dead”.
Perhaps it seems, at first hearing (or even every hearing to date…), that our Lord is being a little harsh with those whom he is calling to follow him. Isn’t it a reasonable and even a good thing to want to bury a deceased relative?
It is. But Christ is calling these people to sacrifice certain goods in favor of others. To be more specific, he is calling them to sacrifice lower goods in favor of higher ones.
Perhaps there is something about this that is still unsatisfying, but a little reflection on our own lives and those of people we know will soon clear up the trouble.
A quick example to get the wheels turning: How many parents would love to take their family on a nice vacation (which is a good thing) – and they could afford to do so – but instead they take a more modest family vacation so that they can also save money for their children’s education (which is a higher good)? If they chose to take the luxurious vacation instead, their children could not have as good of an education. They will have sacrificed a higher good for a lower one, and in the end everyone will be worse off for it.
In the area of vocation, a priest sacrifices the good of marrying and having children and embraces the higher good of celibacy. (Doing so does not make him “better”, but celibacy is objectively a higher good because it reflects in a prophetic way here on earth the life of all in heaven, where all “neither marry nor are given in marriage”.)
Now imagine that the Lord were calling a young man to be a priest, but that person chose other goods instead. The young man is not choosing to do evil – he is choosing to do good! But it is not the good to which the Lord is calling him, and so he will not fulfill God’s plan for his life.
St. Paul says: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Perhaps now the urgency of the Lord’s call is clearer: he always calls us to good, but we must do the good that he has willed for us, not the other legitimate goods that, at times, we might wish to pursue instead. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” – if we follow our own will and not God’s, perhaps we will do a lot of good, but it won’t matter much in the end when we have to face the fact that we didn’t really follow Christ!
He says repeatedly in the gospel, “Follow me”. May we listen to his indications – to where he is leading us – and follow him without delay!