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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Willube or Wannabe?

If people always said what they meant, we’d have no basis for situation comedies, as miscommunication is a staple of that kind of TV. Nowhere is doublespeak more commonly practiced than in writing references for employees they got rid of.

A reference that said, “While he worked with us, he was given numerous citations.” The truth was he was arrested several times.

One boss wrote, “You simply won’t believe this woman’s credentials!” The fact was, she lied on resume.

An HR person said, “He doesn’t know the meaning of the word QUIT.” She thought, “He can’t spell it either.”

One recommendation read, “She is not your everyday worker.” What was left unsaid was, “Every OTHER day, maybe!”

In a phone call, one supervisor gushed, “Given the opportunity, I am certain he will quickly forge a name for himself within your company.” What he meant was, “Don’t leave any blank checks lying around.”

One reference concluded, “All in all, I cannot recommend her too highly.” The typist thought, “In fact, I cannot recommend her at all.”

True discipleship happens after we have counted the cost and made a faith decision.

1. Jesus’ immanent departure caused a couple folks to make rash decisions. (18)

Why did Jesus cross the lake? (14-16) No, the answer is NOT “to get to the other side,” I’m serious this time! I believe His intention was to escape the CROWD around Him. We know that Jesus could feel power go out from Himself every time He healed someone (Luke 8:46-48). This may have left Him tired, even exhausted. He may’ve been at it all EVENING. (16) We know that Jesus frequently went away by Himself for prayer, possibly to “recharge” His “spiritual batteries.” We know that in the next passage Jesus falling asleep on the boat, so it’s no exercise of imagination to guess that He was worn out by the healings and exorcisms He performed and needed to get away from the CROWD that might demand more from Him.

As His disciples prepared the boat for a quick getaway, two people approached Jesus about following Him. A byproduct of His decision was to distinguish between a couple “Wannabe” disciples and those who truly followed him. To go with Him, you’d have to decide to get in the boat. Let’s meet the Wannabes.

2. The first Wannabe was a teacher of the Law. (19-20)

At that time, TEACHERS OF RELIGIOUS LAW were part secretary and part lawyer. They were secretaries in the sense that these men were among the minority of the population that were literate. They were also called “scribes” as part of their duties involve producing and copying documents and the Scriptures. In the Gospels, people like this usually opposed Jesus, as He threatened their monopoly on Jewish religious expression. However, this man addressed Jesus as TEACHER (rabbi). A lifelong student of the Law, that was probably the most respectful title he could bestow. By comparionson, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ disciples never called Him “teacher.”

We note first that this man’s offer to follow Jesus was unconditional. He promise to FOLLOW Jesus WHEREVER He might GO sounds more like an excited impulse rather than a reasoned response. He may’ve been excited to see all the miraculous healings Jesus did and want to see more of that. I wonder if he would have made this promise had he known that Jesus’ next stop was Gentile territory (Gadarnes, vs. 28-34).

Jesus’ reply warned the man that following Him would require a departure from his comfortable lifestyle. This was essentially a call to him to stop and think about it first. Jesus and His disciples were 13 homeless men. They would go from place to place, often depending on others to provide food and housing. He had to keep moving to stay one step ahead of persecution. Both authorities and vigilantes wanted to kill or apprehend Jesus, but it was not the time for that. Also, His mission to preach and heal could not be interrupted or slowed down by interference from the authorities.

TEACHERS OF RELIGIOUS LAW, on the other hand, had stable careers and probably enjoyed the comforts of middle-class life. The religious lawyer hadn’t considered the hardships Jesus and his men faced every day on the road. Jesus knew the scribe would not have done well in that life.

Surely the religious lawyer would have caught Jesus’ use of the title SON OF MAN. That title comes from Daniel 7 and was a figure associated with the end of all things. It is the first time in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus applied this title to Himself.

3. The second wannabe was a “grieving” disciple. (21-22)

Unlike the TEACHER, this man’s offer to follow Jesus was conditional – he wanted to go home and bury dad first. On the surface, the man seems to be making a reasonable request, wanting to keep the fifth commandment and honor his father.

Burial customs of the time often required a two-step process. The remains were entombed as soon as possible and allowed to decay. Sometime later, the bones were separated from the other remains, treated, and placed in an ossuary or “bone box.” The ossuary was then buried again.

Jesus saw below the surface, however, and was never taken in by an excuse. If this man was so concerned about his deceased dad, why would he have even offered to follow Jesus?

Jesus’ reply seems a little unsympathetic, but it uncovered the man’s hypocrisy. We know Jesus’ harshest words were directed at hypocrites. These words seem aggressive, even demanding. His command, “FOLLOW ME NOW” left no room for excuse-making. “LET THE SPIRITUALLY DEAD” (the man) “BURY THEIR OWN DEAD” gets right to the point, skewering the guy’s excuse. This is a pun to make a serious point.

Jesus’ rebuke set Jewish precedent on its ear. Pious Jews of that time believed that burying a parent was one of the primary obligations one had. It superseded all the commandments and normal religious obligations. Only the high priest or someone fulfilling a Nazirite vow was given a pass on burying his parents (Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 6:6-7).

Jesus would add to this teaching in Matthew 10:37 when He said, “ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS FATHER OR MOTHER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS SON OR DAUGHTER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME.” His teaching was that family of faith came in at a higher priority than family of origin.

4. The result was that neither wannabe got into the boat. (23)

The text does not tell us the reaction of either wannabe disciple to what Jesus said to each of them. We are told that the occupants of the boat were Jesus and His disciples, probably the Twelve. We can assume the two wannabes were sufficiently confronted by Jesus that their reaction was discouragement. They gave up on that.

We are told frequently that Jesus knew the minds of those around Him. It’s safe to assume that His response precisely targeted something in the heart of each man. This would be something that caused divided loyalties, serious enough to each that would cause them to fall away later, if they had actually taken to the road with Jesus.

- For the teacher, it was material comforts.

- For the grieving son, it was hesitation to really commit.

In this way, Jesus made use of a “teachable moment” and taught them all something about discipleship. He also spared everyone the trouble of them dropping out later.

What happened next was a miracle that proved the divine side of Jesus. (24-27) When the thirteen leave in the boat and are caught in a sudden storm, Jesus saved them by miraculously commanding the storm to cease. The two wannabes did not have the opportunity to experience that miracle! They’d probably returned to their homes in Capernaum by then.

True discipleship happens after we have counted the cost and made a faith decision.

As far as the two wannabe disciples are concerned, we aren’t told the end of their story. David L. Turner commented, “We hope that both these individuals were prompted by these rebukes to examine themselves and later to follow Jesus. But the silence of Matthew’s narrative is sobering.” (Turner, p. 130)

What we are left with at the end of this story is Jesus turning down two volunteers who weren’t really prepared to be Jesus’ disciples, despite that they said. Jesus saw the things below the surface and turned them away on that basis. This is consistent with Jesus’ frequent teaching on the cost of discipleship. When Jesus calls a person to follow Him, He asks, “’Willube’ my disciple?” A considerate response is required.

OK, we accept that as true. Now we ask the important question of the text: “So what?” So, what now? What do we begin to do or do differently based on what we’ve learned today?

One, we come to God on His terms, not ours. Disciples are followers, not leaders. We don’t flatter ourselves by thinking how lucky God is that we’ve signed on for the cruise. We are undeserving of the honor of following Him, but He calls us to do it anyway.


Messages 1471, 1301, 844.

Ben Witherington III, Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary, Matthew, 2006, pp. 186-188.

David L. Turner, The Cornerstone Bible Commentary, Vol. 11, Matthew, 2005, pp. 129-130.

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