Today's readings have something odd in common. Both make fleeting references to burial. As in graveyards. In the first reading, from Nehemiah, the king's servant is mournful because "the city where my ancestors are buried" is in ruins. In the Gospel, there is a much less sentimental tone. A would-be disciple eagerly informs Jesus, "I will follow you, but first let me bury my father." (No indication that his father is dead yet, mind you.) Jesus responds, "Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead!" (This is our nice, sweet Jesus?)
In both readings, what is important is the direction of the heart. Nehemiah's heart is fixed not so much on his ancestors' graves, as on the city of Jerusalem, the city of the living God. The responsorial psalm even puts his prayer on our lips: "If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!" To "sing the songs of Zion" is to sing about God: "How could I sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land?" Jesus expects that same kind of single-hearted attachment: to himself, the ultimate dwelling-place of the living God. It is clear that Jesus had called that would-be disciple to follow him in a special way. Filial duty was just an excuse. The man's heart was in danger of death. Jesus' rough command was a kind of spiritual cardio resuscitation to bring him back to the land of the living.
Where is my heart today?