Matthew 8 records a dual encounter with Jesus and two would-be disciples. In both cases Jesus surprises us with his answers. The encounters go like this:
And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
--Matthew 8:19-22 English Standard Version
The scribe, a Bible copyist, is educated, knowledgeable in the Scripture, influential in society, and wealthy. And he wants to follow.
Unfortunately, he has failed to count the cost. Discipleship is not just one option among many. Jesus’ words, “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” tell the scribe the truth. He is unprepared to give up his wealth, his station in society, or his resistance to see Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.
Matthew picks up the second man in the middle of a dialogue. The man is making an excuse to Jesus’ call. “Let me first go and bury my father.” The request is not for a day off for the funeral arrangements. He wants to be excused until his father dies and discipleship becomes a more convenient option. Jesus’ answer was as terse as his answer to the scribe. No excuses. Follow me now, when I call.
The irony in this passage is thicker than wet snow. One man brings a list of credentials as long as his arm and Jesus turns him away. He knows how hollow the man’s promise is. The other man has nothing to offer but hesitation, but Jesus sees something greater for him. He refuses to let him go.
Discipleship is not icing on the salvation cake in order to make a sweeter desert. Discipleship is salvation. It is the main and only course. The summons from the King to be saved is the call to follow. To be saved means to become a Christ follower.