Luke 9:60

ESV And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
NIV Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.'
NASB But He said to him, 'Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.'
CSB But he told him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God."
NLT But Jesus told him, 'Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.'
KJV Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.

What does Luke 9:60 mean?

Jesus has invited one of His casual disciples to follow Him more fully (Luke 9:59; Matthew 8:21). This likely means to come along as He travels around Galilee, healing and preaching. The man has made what seems to be a very reasonable request: that he be allowed to bury his father first (Luke 9:59). If the father has just died, the son will need to prepare the body, place it in a tomb, and go through a week-long cleansing ritual (Numbers 19:11). If the father is on his deathbed, the son will have to wait until he dies and then do the ritual. Or the son may mean he needs to take his father's bones from the tomb and place them in the family's more permanent resting place, a process which could take up to a year. He might even mean he wants to wait until after his father's natural life—however long that might take.

As a son, he has the responsibility and the honor to care for his father's body. As a disciple, Jesus calls him to a greater purpose. The man needs to let someone else bury his father; he needs to spread the news of the coming of God's kingdom.

Jesus' play on words most likely means that the spiritually dead—those who refuse to follow Him—can bury the physically dead; in this case, the spiritually living—the disciple—has more important things to do. Scholars debate as to how literal Jesus is being. Does He really mean that the man should shirk an important family responsibility to travel with Jesus? Is He exaggerating for effect to show how serious this is? Or is He responding to someone whose request is more of an excuse?

We can't rule out that in this case, Jesus is being literal. Family is important but following Him takes priority. Jesus dismissed His biological family who wished to interrupt His ministry (Luke 8:19–21). He will warn that following Him takes such devotion that family ties look like hatred in comparison (Luke 14:26). And He says that we need to be willing to sacrifice family relationships to be worthy of Him (Matthew 10:34–39).

Jesus will make a similar sacrifice. Alongside burying one's father, it is the eldest's son's responsibility to care for his widowed mother. Jesus can't do that. Even though He is raised from the dead three days after the crucifixion, forty days later He ascends to heaven. He can't stay and take care of Mary—He has more important things to do for God's kingdom. So, He finds another: the apostle John takes Mary into his home as if she were his own mother (John 19:25–27).

Jesus doesn't require this sacrifice of all of us; family relationships are important. But just as we must be willing to give up our lives for Him (Luke 9:23–24), we need to be able to sacrifice the relationships that give us the most comfort or sense of cultural security.
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