An Apparent Contradiction
Updated: May 3, 2019
The Ten Commandments are very clear about honoring our parents. However, in Luke 9, there is an apparent contradiction. Jesus was being approached by people who wanted to follow him. One man said he was ready to go as soon as he had buried his father. Presumably, his father was old or sick and about to die. This seems like a reasonable and respectful request. But Jesus’ response was unexpected, and seemingly cold:
And Jesus said to him,
“Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” -- Luke 9:60 (ESV)
That’s certainly not what you would expect Jesus to say. It seems to contradict the commandment to honor our parents. This is troubling until you understand first century Jewish burial customs.
Purchasing a personal, rock cut tomb was something only the wealthy could afford. Poor people would purchase a single tomb together with their extended family. When someone in the family died, they were buried in the family tomb for one year. At the end of that year, the bones of the deceased were gathered together into an ossuary – a small stone box that could be stored elsewhere. In this way, the tomb would be available for re-use.
This second ossuary burial required a second funeral service. This ritual was only a custom and was accompanied by a great deal of superstition. Apparently, it was believed that if the correct rituals weren’t performed for the ossuary burial, the dead person would not be at rest and their spirit might come back to haunt the family.
When the man in Luke 9 wanted to wait to bury his father, he was referring to the second ossuary burial ritual. Jesus was saying that he had no time for silly superstitions. The father was already dead and buried, so “Leave the dead to bury their own dead”.