Biblical Words 
II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm
God’s Spirit empowers followers, makes great demands, but opens a life of mutual love.
II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14.
The reading from the prophets is the story of the passing of the mantle from Elijah to Elisha.
For the age of the kings, Elijah is as
massive a founding figure as Moses is for the Sinai age. When Moses was taken by God (Deut. 34), all
the provisions had been made for
The same was true of Elijah. He had been the model of zeal for the Lord: he had defeated a mob of Baal prophets on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18), he had received the new revelation on the holy mountain authorizing him to overthrow the royal houses of Damascus and Israel (I Kings 19), and he had delivered the word of judgment on King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (I Kings 21). What was left undone at Elijah’s departure was to be finished by Elisha. Both Moses and Elijah were taken away to God (in approximately the same geographical location!), and both were taken away before the completion of their work.
The enigmatic but clever story of Elisha hanging on to Elijah to the last second shows that Elisha was worthy of Elijah’s mantle (which he actually picks up in verse 13). As the story is presented, Elijah, on his way to his rendezvous with God, keeps trying to put off Elisha, telling him there is no need for him to go further. But Elisha knows better. (Verses 3-5, omitted from the reading, present several speeches to Elisha by the local companies of prophets, who sound like the chorus of a Greek tragedy: he is leaving you, you know!)
hangs on, and is rewarded by being present when God’s fiery horses and chariot
whisk Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind.
At the last minute, Elisha had been wise enough to ask Elijah for a
“double share” of Elijah’s spirit. (In
inheritance law, the first-born son received twice as large a share as the rest
of the sons,
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20.
The Psalm reading presents a speaker who is in trouble and cannot find comfort. As the psalm goes on the speaker resorts to reciting to God the mighty deeds of the past.
of powerful liturgical poetry reminds God of the spectacular explosions with
which the Storm God made the cosmos shudder in order to lead the redeemed
people through the flood – as Moses and Aaron led out the people of
refers particularly to Jacob and Joseph (verse 15), ancestors especially of the
northern Kingdom of
While the prophetic reading dealt with the transmission of the prophetic spirit, in the Epistle reading Paul contrasts the old life under the law with the new life in the Spirit.
The Galatians have known the power of the Spirit – “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:2). What other Judean-Christians are trying to persuade the Galatians to do is add the works of the law, beginning with circumcision, to make them fully-qualified Christians. Circumcision is a matter of the flesh, and Paul argues that to resort to such group-identifiers as circumcision (which divide people from each other) is to become slaves again to “the flesh.”
He portrays “the flesh” in opposition to the Spirit, and in this passage they are roughly equal to a life of self-obsession (the flesh) as opposed to a life of committed mutuality (love in the Spirit).
As other Judean teachers, including Jesus, did, Paul says the whole law can be summed up in the one saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Note, it is not total absorption in the other; it is love for the other as one loves oneself. It is mutuality.) Living out of love will fulfill God’s will more truly than working at hundreds of commandments of the law.
Someone said, “the Devil is in the details,” and Paul turns to the details.
What is life like when guided by the
flesh? He lists fifteen pejorative terms
to describe the misery of such self-absorbed existence (verses 19-21), and
contrasts with them a list of nine terms to describe the life of mutual love
guided by the Spirit (verse 22). In
fact, all the details of how to live by the law of love cannot be spelled
out. The right things to do are given,
moment by moment, by the Spirit; it is a spontaneous life. Or, as Paul said at the beginning, “For
freedom Christ has set us free” (verse 1,
The Gospel reading presents Jesus with some overtones of Elijah and Elisha.
For people who compare the Gospels with each
this is a solemn turning point. “When the days drew near for him to be
taken up, he set his face to
Jesus’ disciples James and John, called “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), think Jesus should treat these Samaritans as Elijah treated the arrogant soldiers who came to arrest him; that is, they should call down fire from heaven to consume them (verse 54, referring to II Kings 1:9-15). Jesus rejects this violent proposal.
Some later copyists of the
Gospels felt that he should have explained more fully why this was a bad
idea. Many late Greek manuscripts of
Luke add Jesus’ reproach to the disciples:
“You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come
to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them” (verse 55, reading the
overall viewpoint there would be a better way to deal with Samaritans. He describes it in Acts chapter 8. When Jesus had accomplished his mission in
The beginning of the journey is the time to assess the requirements of the traveling companions. Luke accordingly gives here three sayings about the extraordinary demands of discipleship for following Jesus. There is a curious alternation of initiative between Jesus and the would-be followers. First a volunteer offers himself, and is warned that he is joining the homeless (verses 57-58). Jesus then calls one who has just lost his natural father, and tells him (harshly, it seems to us) to forget about the funeral ceremonies (verses 59-60).
A third candidate wants a short leave to go home and arrange matters for the family he is leaving behind. This person is like Elisha, who answered Elijah’s call by saying, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Elijah concurred with this request, and Elisha dissolved his large farming business by slaughtering his oxen and giving a going-away banquet for all the people (I Kings -21).
Jesus in his time, starting his journey to
What Jesus has come for has an urgency that will allow no compromises or delays!