Mysteries Of The Bible: What Did Jesus Mean About The 'Dead' Burying The Dead?
It's sort of a mystery in the Bible.
Referring to the request of a man who asked to be excused so he could bury his deceased father, Jesus told this fellow to follow Him and "let the dead bury the dead" (or "allow the dead to bury their own dead," Matthew 8:22).
What did Jesus mean by this? What are we to make of it? The "dead" burying the dead?
It sounds so strange and yet we must consider that Jesus may have been giving us all advice on how to handle death -- and how to live our own lives, in the wake of bereavement.
We all lose close relatives, and it's often very painful -- the most painful thing we have endured. It's one of life's great trials. It's understandable to be sad.
But perhaps the message is: We are to pray for the dead, and for a while, we can mourn, to a certain degree -- but we are not to stop life on account of it; we are not to become obsessed. Jesus had admonished the man to move forward and not be preoccupied with mourning the death of a parent.
It nearly seems shocking but the "dead," it would seem, are those whose faith has departed, whose eyes are set on only the world, who believe that death is thus the end of the road, and who as a result live this life in a dead sort of way -- drawn into a vortex of darkness when someone passes.
That it has to do with faith may be implied by the fact that it is preceded (in the very same passage) by the famous account of Jesus calming the stormy sea -- through faith.
Those lacking faith are the ones who take mourning to an extreme and are caught in the dark clouds and see death instead of resurrection.
We live in a culture that encourages this. Such is obvious by the profits made on long wakes, elaborate funerals, and indestructible caskets. We are made to feel guilty if we don't bury our dead in the highest of style and with the most elaborate morbidity, extending grief.
In some cultures dark clothes are worn for years.
Yet in reality obsessive grief may even bind the departed and be a hindrance to the advancement of such a soul into eternal peace.
In one study of those who had near-death episodes was the account of a man named Dave who had been overwhelmed by the death of his father, until he had a vision in which his dad supposedly said:
"Dave, I came back for just one very particular reason -- to stop you from grieving about my so-called 'death.' I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to get through to you -- but now that you see how alive I am, you can understand how pointless it is to grieve -- it really makes it harder for us to do what we're meant to do. I want you to be happy for me, not mournful."
That's from a study by two researchers named Dr. Craig L. Lundahl and Dr. Harold A. Widdison, and so we see that the Irish had the right idea when it comes to wakes!
What about cemeteries?
The Church operates them and extends indulgences for those who pray at graves. It is a vehicle for intercession, and we are certainly to pray for the dead. There are tombs where grace is tangible. Here we think of St. Francis at Assisi, and the tombs of any number of other great saints.
As one Catholic diocese notes: "To a Catholic, a cemetery is a sacred place. Next to the church, no spot on earth should be so hallowed and dear to a parish. In the cemetery are buried the mortal remains of the faithful departed, consecrated as temples of the Holy Ghost with the holy oils of the Sacraments. The cemetery speaks to a Christian of faith and hope in the resurrection of the body. Sensing the deep meaning of burial grounds, the faithful have called their cemetery significantly, 'God's Acre.'"
Each day that a person visits a cemetery from November 1 to 8 gains that person a Plenary Indulgence (Enchiridion of Indulgences, 1968, number 13).
At the same time, strange things can occur at graveyards -- matters that seem dark -- and it can be a place of the earthbound, or at least such seems the case with ones that are not properly consecrated. Note that neither Jesus, Mary, nor Joseph left graves behind (only the site of His tomb), and that in Scripture the wild men possessed by demons in Gadarenes were living in the tombs [Matthew 8:28].
Once more, it's a matter of attitude. Are we morbid at cemeteries, or joyful?
Pray for the deceased -- but don't be obsessed with them. You will see them again. This too comes from countless near-death reports. We see each other again, and forever. There is but a short separation, if we live in Jesus. Mourning is not to be equated with love. In fact, love transcends death!
And so death is not the end.
Yet we treat it as such in moments of "deadness" when we do not contemplate the words of Jesus.
Sure, you are going to be sad when someone close dies. Sure, it's tough. But don't let it keep you down. There are seasons for grief but with prayer the season is short and the eyes look to Heaven.
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