Summary: Year C. Fourth Sunday after Pentecost July 1st, 2001, 1 Kings 19: 15-16, 19-21 Title: “The cost of discipleship.”
Year C. Fourth Sunday after Pentecost July 1st, 2001, 1 Kings 19: 15-16, 19-21
Title: “The cost of discipleship.”
In chapter nineteen, Elijah has taken to the hills in flight from the wrath of Jezebel who has put out a contract on his life. She blamed him for killing her prophets of her god, Baal, on Mt Carmel. She wanted revenge. In a cave in the mountain Elijah has a religious experience. He heard the voice of the Lord not in the usual dramatic ways typical of theophany but in a gentle whisper. He was told to anoint, that is, to formally bestow divine approval and power on, three people- Hazael as king of Aram, Jehu as king of Israel, and Elisha as prophet to succeed him. Actually, it will be Elisha who will anoint Hazael and Jehu in 2Kings 8-9, but Elijah immediately anoints Elisha. Strictly speaking, there is no record of an actual anointing.
This is the only example of a prophet indicating, be it anointing, appointing or naming, his successor. It is reminiscent, probably intentionally so, of Moses appointing Joshua as his successor. In the popular mind Moses and Elijah are linked as representing the law and prophets respectively. From this perspective they are sort of equals, preventing the isolation of the written law from the interpretation of the spoken word of the prophet.
In verse sixteen, You shall anoint Elisha: There is, in fact, no ceremony of anointing recorded, but the legitimacy of Elisha as prophet-successor is clearly meant to be emphasized. “Elisha” means “My God is, my, salvation.” His home is given as Abel-meholah which is variously identified with Tell Abu Sifri or Tell Abn Haraz in East Jordan. A Tell is a hill containing archaeological remains of ancient settlements now buried under the accumulation of ages of weathering. Tell is used as part of a place name- in the Near East- to indicate it once was a human environment.
In verse nineteen, Elisha, was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen: Elisha is called in the midst of his occupation, a practice foreshadowing Jesus’ call of his disciples while they worked at their trade. Add to the relatively large number of yokes the fact that Elisha was walking behind them in a supervisory position and this note may indicate that Elisha was from a well-to-do family.
In verse twenty, Elijah, threw his cloak over him: It was a common belief, born of, sympathetic, magic, that clothing which came into bodily contact with a powerful person possessed some of that power. Elijah was transferring his power to Elisha by this symbolic sacramental act. This may be the counterpart of anointing.
Let me kiss my father and my mother goodbye: Elisha recognized the import of what Elijah had done. He would accept the call., “take up the mantle,” but only after he did right by his parents, a sacred duty as well, as the keeping of the fourth commandment.
Have I done anything to you?: Elijah’s peculiar answer is puzzling. It may be a roundabout way of saying, “By all means, do so.” His answer could also be interpreted as Elijah’s being affronted by the “delaying tactic.” Jesus would so react in today’s gospel text. Or it may mean something more neutral like “Go ahead. Have I done anything to stop you. We must leave Elijah’s response as enigmatic. Certainly, Elisha’s request is perfectly normal and reasonable, even compassionate.
In verse twenty-one, Elisha left him: Whatever Elijah’s response might mean, Elisha took it as permission to go and he went.
Oxen, slaughtered them; he used the plowing equipment for fuel: Elisha destroyed the elements of his now former occupation as a sign of total commitment to a new way of life, never to look back.
Gave it to his people to eat: Of course, he put the oxen and the equipment, to good and productive use. He did not destroy them for destruction sake. In fact, this may well have been a thank offering for his new calling. It seems that family and neighbors were invited to join him in this thanksgiving and farewell meal.
Then he left and followed Elijah as his attendant: Moses, too, had a servant, Joshua. Moses trained him. Elijah will train Elisha. In the New Testament this very language will be used of the disciples of Jesus.
Few, if any, who reflect on this text will find themselves in the exact situation Elisha experienced. It is highly unlikely, though not impossible, that some known prophet will walk up to us while we are at work and ask us, challenge us, indeed, dare us, to take up the mantle of prophecy and leave family and job. However, the elements in this story are not as far-fetched as they might seem when we reflect on what happens to us when we are working at our daily jobs.