We see an incident in the Bible where Jesus says follow me and let the dead bury their own dead when a disciple tells that he should stay to bury his father. Why is Jesus, who is known for compassion, being rude and insensitive here?
This is a good question. I certainly cannot blame anyone reading Luke 9:60 for feeling that Jesus is being insensitive or uncompassionate here. Here is how I think about this passage. We must put it into its proper context. In Luke 9:57-62 a number of potential followers are coming to Jesus, seeking to join his traveling group of disciples. Specifically, three are recorded asking Jesus if they can follow him. In the first case, Jesus tells a man that following him implies a great amount hardship and much denial of self. In essence, he asks him if he really understands what he is getting into. Your question involves the second person. This person, in essence, tells Jesus that he will follow him, but… In other words, he is putting conditions on following Jesus. He is trying to be “Lord” of the disciple relationship by setting terms. Jesus soundly rejects this attempt to put conditions on discipleship. Like Jesus said in Luke 14:33, “those who do not give up everything they have cannot be my disciples.” Coming back to Luke 9:59-60 this man is telling Jesus that he wants to be a disciple, but first he must take care of his father. Whether his father is actually dead or not is not clear. Perhaps he is using an idiom and he wants to go back and “bury” his father in the sense of going back and waiting until his father actually dies and is buried, or perhaps his father is actually dead, and he is merely asking to take care of the funeral first. In either case, the problem for Jesus is that, in essence, the man is saying, “I will follow you but…”
In response, Jesus says something that is somewhat shocking to us. He says, “let the (spiritually?) dead bury the (physically?) dead. This does appear harsh at first glance, but we need to understand the point Jesus is making, which is that, when it comes to discipleship to Jesus, there are no buts about it.
Let me express my opinion, but it is just my opinion. My opinion is that if the man had said. “Amen Jesus, whatever you say, I am with you heart and soul,” but then, as an afterthought, if he told Jesus that his father was dead (assuming that this was the case, which I am not sure of, by the way), and asked him for permission to help take care of the funeral arrangements, that Jesus would have given a strong yes! Jesus is not against disciples helping with taking care of the family, but he is against putting family before God. But that is just my opinion, and you can judge for yourself.