Mathew’s gospel has an interesting encounter between Jesus and a disciple of a scribe who wanted to follow Jesus.
Another man, one of the disciples, said to him, ‘Lord, let me go and bury my father first.’ But Jesus said, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their dead.’ (Mathew 8, 21–22).
Was Jesus too harsh here? The discussion was about following Jesus; in that question, nothing can take a priority. It can be interpreted as an expression of giving the primacy to “following Jesus”. But I think, there is more.
One of the interpretations that I found sensible is connected to an english word “procastination”. ‘Let me go and bury my father first’ is a way of saying that I will follow you after the death of the father. Or the father is still alive, and the person is not ready to follow immediately. The person wants to delay the decision. Some scholars who have studied the jewish culture and that of middle east (i think the same is true for India too) says that its impossible for a son to be on the street when his father is dead. He would be mourning in the house.
So when we understand in that sense, it is not a critique by Jesus against going and burying his dead father (which is very important in many traditions); but it is harsh critic against his excuses; the response of Jesus also reveals the radicality involved for the disciple of Jesus.
It becomes more evident when we read the parable of good samaritain in the light of this. The priest and levite (supposedly good followers of God) gave the excuse of sacrifice instead of helping the wounded man; the sacrifice of “holy people” turned out to be dead burying the dead… and the act of a “samaritain” became a model of following. For me, this is a very challenging and frightening reality.