I didn't understand last Sunday's Gospel reading


57 As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’

58 Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.’

59 Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me,’ replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’

60 But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’

61 Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say good – bye to my people at home.’

62 Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

I pretty much don’t understand any of this, lol. I don’t understand Jesus’ reply about not having anywhere to lay His head, to the man who said he’d follow Him. And I don’t understand why he talks about the dead burying their dead, when I would’ve thought it would be okay to at least bury a dead father before leaving, wouldn’t that be a part of the whole honor your father and mother? And I don’t understand why it’d be wrong to say goodbye to family when you’re going to set out. Is it so wrong to love your family and want them to know where you’re going?

What I CAN understand is the whole needing to follow Jesus whole-heartedly, and not be regretful or allow things to weigh you down, but…I don’t understand how that fits here, when we’re told to honor our parents, and if we have a good and loving relationship with them; how can that be bad? How would/should we follow Him then?



Join the club. My pals and I discussed this at length, and I still don’t quite understand how to apply it to my life. The best I can figure, it relates to the preeminence of the great commandment:

Matthew 22:37-39 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition)
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

I’ll be interested to read other replies.


57 As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’

58 Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.’

59 Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me,’ replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’

60 But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’

61 Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say good – bye to my people at home.’

62 Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

The Lord deals with each of us in different ways, and knows us completely.

One man comes up and announces he will follow Jesus wherever he goes! Sincere? A boast? Has he misunderstood what that would actually mean? Does it look to him like an adventure, a traveling road show with sensational healings and Hosannas each day?

THIS man Jesus seems to address soberly. He tells him that following HIM might be a life of privation. The Son of Man (Jesus) has no place to lay his head. There may be campouts, places without boundless charity and plentiful fare. Sacrifice.

What happens? We don’t know. But the lesson is for us. And there is the next:

This time Jesus does the calling: Out of the blue it seems he tells another “Follow me!”

This one does not immediately follow (like James and John dropping their nets or Matthew immediately leaving the tax table) but negotiates for a delay. Jesus reiterates that the time is now and that he has a duty. The “let the dead bury their dead” is a mystery. As Jesus knows all, He knows the state of things in this one’s home. For instance, if that father would live a long while - that’s quite a delay. If that father were not spiritual but otherwise, as in spiritually dead, Christ’s calling the man as He did and urging no delay becomes a clearer … but again … we don’t know the details. Just that sometimes God says “NOW!”

Next another anxious volunteer comes with a negotiation. He will join Jesus tomorrow or soon, and just wants to say good-bye to his people at home (perhaps with a good-bye party? etc.). :shrug:

Jesus does not say yes or no here. DID He accept this? Or not? In either case He gives
a warning to the man not to be distracted from his duty, and to keep his priorities straight.
Not worthy of the kingdom of God here means slipshod. Visiting ones family is not the evil warned against … this would seem to be the warning Lot’s wife didn’t heed. Double mindedness. I wanna go back. Oops the plow has plowed crooked while I was looking.

Manly commitment is desired by Jesus. It’s a serious thing. Number one.

Per the liturgy it goes well with the story of Elijah and Elisha in the first reading. Elijah is being retired. He’s told by God to anoint Elisha. He does it by spreading his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders. That cloak is used in miracles BTW. Elijah is done. Begins walking off.

Elisha is all excited to join him (as his protoge?) and Elijah seems reluctant to accept him as such at first it seems.

Elisha (who becomes quite a great prophet himself later) wastes no time in changing his life. He was plowing the field with 12 oxen. He immediately sacrifices them ALL and burns up the plow and feeds the poor. This is doing what Jesus would one day ask a rich man to do … sell what you have, give to the poor and follow me. His commitment is total, faithful and enthusiastic (even though he is annointed, he acts as a servant to Elijah while he is still on Earth.

If God were to call US … would we be ready to come immediately.

Have we ever volunteered for something exciting, got bored and quit when the going got tough? Or moped around half-quitting and becoming a morale problem? :blushing:

Can we overcome a lukewarm reception when we come? Once accepted do we look for the offramps instead of the passing lanes? Are our procrastination excuses ever so good? And lead us to justifying whatever OTHER thing we’ve decided to do besides our duty … because ____________.

In other places Jesus seems to invite people cheerfully to join Him. His yoke is light, His burden is sweet! This time the lesson is more about “Apostolate and Commitment” and keep your eyes on the prize – even when other possible good but lesser things beckon.




When I reflect on this reading I always think that these examples send the message that we have to be constantly aware of the “things” that hold us back from following Jesus in our lives. To me, “let the dead bury their dead” means leave the past in the past and follow me. The second example is an example of trying to have it both ways – our way and God’s way.


Our priest told us in his homily that we sometimes say, “Yes, Jesus, I’ll follow you… just not today.”

“Just not today”… is what they were saying to Jesus.

On the “bury my father”, the priest said that “the father was not yet dead… that the man meant he would follow Jesus after he no longer had a father at home.” The man did not mean,“Dad just died and I want to be there for the burial.”

I heard someone on Catholic Radio comment and they said it meant, “Let the Spiritually dead, bury the Spiritually dead.”

The person on the radio said the part about Jesus not having a place to lay His head, meant he basically was homeless, “no place to lay his head” - … To follow Him meant it would be very hard, not a simple task.


Ahhhh okay…it’s more clear now…thanks!! Yea our homily is in Korean so I can’t understand it whenever the Gospel and readings are explained.

It didn’t even occur to me that the father wasn’t actually dead, dead…I thought it was a literal, he’s dead and needs to be buried! :blush:

And the part about following Him who has no home, how it will be difficult…yea okay, I get that now.

And since it was brought up…and if I may take advantage of the fact it was brought up…:smiley:

20 Elisha left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ‘Let me kiss my father and mother, then I will follow you,’ he said. Elijah answered, ‘Go, go back; for have I done anything to you?’

21 Elisha turned away, took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He used the oxen’s tackle for cooking the meat, which he gave the people to eat. He then rose and, following Elijah, became his servant.

I would think that the oxen belonged to his father, not to Elisha…how can it be right to slaughter them all, when it’s probably what his family lives off of? I understand that it’s a noble act and all, but if he destroys the means of his family’s support…I don’t understand! :blush:

Thanks for bearing with me here!


From the standpoint of one who has plowed with horses, I can tell you that you have to keep your concentration on plowing a straight furrow and keeping the depth of the plow even. One moment of looking back and you will mess up. Once the ground is broken wrongly, it is nearly impossible to get back on track and that place will give trouble throughout the entire growing season. Though it would not likely happen with a steel plow, the plows used in the first century could be easily broken. Farming is done when the time is right, so a breakdown might make you miss the optimal time for getting the crop planted. Hope this helps.


Jesus is describing the various ways in which we betray Him; none of us, by our own actions are fit for the Kingdom of Heaven, leaving Our Lord with no where to lay His head: no where in this world to truly belong. I think it is a good message for anyone who fancies themselves as a good follower of Christ. And basically God has to be first in one’s heart - not equal first with spouse or family: but first before family/spouse etc. This is what creates all the opposition- because people like to consider themselves very important & dont like to be second - even to God. My 2 cents.


58 Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.’
He is speaking of the hardship of following Him; that one would have to give up the traditional concept of “home”.

60 But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’
Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead. Jesus knew there would be many who would not follow him, but instead preferred to be in and of the world all of which dies and passes away. So let these non believers participate in the mostly meaningless customs of burial, and let the true believers drop these worldly customs and come follow Jesus.

62 Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
We see throughout Scripture the admonition to not be double minded. To follow Jesus with regret for the things of the world you have given up is a form of double mindedness.


In the Douay-Rheims version, the KJV, and the RSV-Catholic Edition (and probably others, but I stopped at 3), it says he slaughtered “a yoke,” or “the yoke,” not all of the oxen. It sounds as though he sacrificed 2 oxen out of 24 (since a “yoke of oxen” is generally a team of two, paired together with the wooden yoke).

It also doesn’t say whether the oxen are his father’s or his, so I don’t know for sure, but it may have been that his father had given him the authority to handle the oxen, up to and including sacrificing them. Or they may have belonged to Elisha.

More importantly, I’d say that Elisha trusted in God to take care of his family after God called him. His concern was to do as God asked him to do. It’s hard for us to understand, because we like to think WE are in control, and it seems like such a hard thing to do to give up that control: to trust God to handle everything else when He calls us to do something! And to put God before everyone else (including ourselves) in our lives! :wink:


Yeah. Lol. If they were his Dad’s oxen we should be considerably less impressed with Elisha.

Of course I’m sort of a conservative guy and don’t see the redistributing of somebody ELSE’S wealth as being as good a way to feed the poor (as was done in the passage and positively noted) as taking Jesus’ advice on the matter:

Matt 14:15 When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, "This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves."


(Jesus) said to them, "There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves."

Since God was anointing Elisha and knew his character, which ever after this introduction was QUITE exemplary - I think the oxen were probably his. Or you had an oxen stealer and vandal making a bad start to his holy ministry - rather than one who “sells what he has and gives it to the poor …”.

There’s no technical proof either way, it’s true. And I can see the reasons behind your deduction. But upon further review the scripture is more fruitful than obscure when Elisha’s generosity and bridge burning commitment is presumed, rather than his possibly being a “take this job and _____ it!” kind of son, and quite a destructive hypocrite. :eek:

As for support of his family. None is mentioned, parents, wife, kids. He seems to have been able to leave immediately. And a man who would care for the poor would likely provide all the more for his own family (or that would be in character) if he had one.

Elijah, who he was succeeding also seemed to be single … as when he travelled (all the time) people sometimes prepared a room for him. And for years during the drought he is seen to live as a hermit.

:hmmm: ***- okay, benefit of the doubt … then what happened? ***


His parents are mentioned. He requests of Elijah, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” :wink:


Thanks guys for the replies! :smiley:


I thought my homilist explained this quite eloquently. Especially in light of the fact that the Old Testatment reading was Elisha asking Elijah to be able to say goodbye to his family and Elisha was okay with that. But Jesus tells the man “Let the dead bury the dead.” His thought was that Elijah was a man. But Jesus is God. When God asks you to do something you don’t say, “Well, can you wait a minute, I have this and such to do.” Scriptures are pointing out that Jesus is not just a prophet, not just a man but God as well.

The running theme in all of these admonitions that Jesus gives, IMHO, is that there’s nothing more important and more pressing than what God is calling you to do. And in this day and age, where everything seems more pressing, this should be so appropriate.


How many of you would not want to bury your dead? And why would your God who tells you that you should honor your mother and father make you even have to question what to do in this case? WHY?


Christ was making a point. If He is right there with you and you have the chance to follow Him, are you really going to say “I’ll be back after I go to a funeral?” Who is a funeral really for anyways? Do the dead recognize your attendance? No. Do you feel better because you have “paid your respects”? That’s the self interest of ego. This is not to say you should never attend funerals. It is simply to say that funerals are customs of this world and REGARDLESS of their worldly importance, all worldly things should be dropped from importance when Christ calls us unto Him.


Good point. I meant as people he was supporting … or indebted to (i.e. in which case he was not really free to go but bailed on his family?). I didn’t think that likely - it rather changes the focus of the lesson.

This does lead me to remember that James and John, the sons of Zebedee dropped their nets and followed Jesus immediately. Same questions might apply there. But the answer is … they went (and apparently at least), that decision was right in each case - or it seems we’d have heard something about that.

The value you are concerned about was spoken of by Jesus too - who chastised those Pharisees who were advocating that monies for supporting one’s parents could be given to the Temple.

Mark 7:11

Yet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’ 4 (meaning, dedicated to God),

12 you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother.

13 You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things."

Was Elisha’s sacrifice of oxen to the poor and quickly joining Elijah a similar case to that?

Well … I’m not thinkin’ so. But the exercise has done my memory some good. :wink:


One why oughtta do it. But I take it this vexes you.

You are SO right in the first place … He DOES tell us we should honor our mother and father.

Per the second part … you think Jesus is somehow setting aside the commandment?

To plagiarize* you a bit … WHY?

He doesn’t. He invented that commandment and got on the Pharisees for telling people it was OK not to support dependent parents in favor of dedicating the money to God (per qorban). So “this case” is not like “that case”. But God yet does ASK us to decide sometimes. Commandment ONE comes before Commandment FOUR … but the idea is to do them both.

This scripture is about being committed and ready to answer when called.

If it were not Jesus … but say … A President or the commanding officer of the country’s armies giving the order … maybe this would become clearer. We would generally report.
Darn. Have to miss that funeral. Maybe some would go AWOL figuring it’s a free country and I’m doing a good thing?

As it is … this is one of several scriptures that deals with God’s invitation. Sometimes it has the tone of an imperative. COME! As in the parable of the King giving his son a wedding feast. People however do make excuses and don’t come (at ALL in that parable - it’s a "Yes, but later … " excuse given in these.

You have focused on the goodness of a child’s wanting to honor their dead parent. :thumbsup: But maybe that parent in this was not dead yet and the “not today” is not “just a couple of days” but perhaps a long time … or never (since one does not know how long he has on Earth).

WHY Jesus calls this particular person in that particular way is not given here. Noted is that He calls two different men … and even declines an enthusiastic volunteer (at least until He has warned the man of the possible hardships of following Him).

Jesus knows each person and situation. It is better to say YES and come when HE is calling - instead of ascribing to HIM low motives or egoism or destructively calling someone to breaking a commandment rather than issuing a priority (both things are good - this is better to do now).

Suppose the father (still living) was about to corrupt the son; or that Jesus knew the father would outlive the son or (any number of other possibilities that don’t make us the DA and Jesus the defendant).

The principle of “…It’s gotta be this or that …” has led many from the Church and away from Jesus needlessly. And its another theme that Jesus addresses.

Come back and read these scriptures (the liturgy for the day) in a different spirit perhaps. One of expectation of learning (for example) since scrutinizing with a bit of skepticism has been done now.

Sometimes in my mind I try the quotes out with a different tones of voices for those who speak. It is amazing how different our experience can be … particularly after prayer and adopting a “listening” mode awaiting the Holy Spirit.

Then, even when we do not understand a scripture … we can have the grace of Mary:

Luke 2:19
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

confident in the fact that though we see as through a glass, darkly; we can believe in God and have the peace that passes all understanding.

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.

One look at Jesus on a crucifix reminds me He is not an egotist per: “Bwa ha ha ha - made you kiss your family off!”

He DOES compliment those who give up everything for the sake of the Kingdom of God however - including family (which he enumerates one by one in that scripture). But that seems to be a very different thing.

Sometimes one sees holiness and recoils. Feeling guilty and/or angry about the feelings. And assuming the heady role of “CRITIC of the Church!”. When that Church is the only vessel of salvation, it is best for us to criticize from the inside and loyally - per excellence rather than in a way that inhibits the mission. If we “criticize” at all.

  • meh, this has got to be public domain actually :wink:


I think for health and sanitation reasons one needs to take care of the dead when they die. Sounds great to say why not leave the corpse because I am busy with Jesus doing his work! But, in reality it would be negligent to the community to leave a corpse to rot amoung them.

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