by Ann Sullivan
In the days of His public ministry, Jesus would have relied almost exclusively on the kindness and hospitality of others.
He wasn’t kidding when He said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). Nor was He kidding when He warned His disciples they could expect the same thing.
But Jesus wasn’t simply stating the obvious. Yes, a follower of Christ could expect an itinerary that would not include high-end hotels and fine dining. But Jesus was going deeper, which becomes apparent when a potential follower asks if he can bury his father first and then follow Him.
At first glance, Jesus’ response seems harsh. “Follow me,” He says, “and let the dead bury their own dead.” But, as always, a closer look at His words reveal multi-layered significance.
The Jews put a premium on ceremony and ritual. A child burying a parent was even more significant to them than it is for us today. A proper burial was viewed as sacred. So significant, in fact, that Moses used the picture of death without burial as a consequence to sin (Deut. 28: 25-26). Given this context, Jesus’ comment in Matthew 8 becomes even more poignant as it illustrates the level of commitment demanded of a follower of Christ.
In a world that understands the power of possession, both in Jesus’ day and in ours, it strikes us as ironic that the Son of God should choose the way of poverty to reveal Himself. In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul tells us Jesus emptied Himself and stepped out of His royal robes to become like us.
This levels the playing field in terms of God’s favor. We are all invited to come to Him, whether we live in plenty or in want. The human heart is designed to need its Creator regardless of socio-economic or cultural standing.
But the poverty of Jesus does more than illustrate our spiritual need for the riches of the kingdom. It becomes a means by which we can serve others, which is at the heart of the gospel. God needs nothing from us, yet He invites us to give to Him by meeting the needs of others.
Just before Jesus faced His crucifixion, He spoke to His disciples on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem. In a parable He said,
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:34-40)
The relationship God initiates with us is a gift. The reconciliation Christ accomplished on the cross is complete. But God knew we’d need some way to respond to this unmerited favor. So He offers us a way to say thank you to Him by allowing us to serve others in His name.
Psychologists will tell you gratitude and generosity are foundational to emotional health. God’s word will tell you they reflect His love and point to salvation.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
Ann Sullivan is an author, speaker, and blogger. Her first book, Permission to Doubt (Kregel), both challenges and encourages people in their faith as they face a new generation of progressive ideas. Her next book is entitled Beautifully Discontent. Ann’s website is annsullivansimpletruths.com.