1 KINGS 19:15-16, 19-21
On the surface, we can call this passage “The Call of Elisha”. But things get muddy in the details of the story. Let’s start by looking at the people mentioned in this story.
Elijah is one of the most famous of the prophets. If God had a baseball team, Moses would be at the top of the batting order. Elijah would be on deck. Elijah came from the small town of Gilead. He was an outsider. He is a loner; a voice crying in the wilderness. But he is called by God to do some heavy lifting. Israel’s King Ahab married a Phoenician princess named Jezebel. When she moved to Israel, she converted Ahab to worshipping Baal instead of Yahweh. At this time in the story, Elijah is the only Jewish prophet remaining—Jezebel had all the others killed. And Jezebel is trying to assassinate him! Elijah is tired, burned-out, and wants to die. But God has other plans.
Elisha is named by God to replace Elijah. Elisha, by contrast to Elijah, is wealthy and connected. It is a time for a change. Elisha is the right man at the right time. He will move Israel forward, out of the dark days of the Ahab/Jezebel era.
As we join the story, Elijah has escaped harm, and is alone in the wilderness. He sits under a solitary broom tree, and asks God to take his life. God makes him eat, and sends him on a journey. At the end of the journey, Elijah sits down and again asks to die. God appears to him “in sheer silence” with some instructions.
- The Lord instructs Elisha to anoint two new kings—one over Damascus and one over Israel. Looks like King Ahab will be on the outside looking in! Best of all, the Lord names Elisha as Elijah’s successor. (vv. 15-16)
- Elijah found Elisha plowing a field behind a team of twelve oxen. Very few farmers in that time and place could afford to keep twelve oxen. This fact indicates that Elisha comes from a wealthy family. There may also be some symbolism here. There are twelve tribes of Israel. This might be symbolic of his ability to lead a team of twelve tribes as well as oxen. (v. 19a)
- But something weird happens. Instead of anointing Elisha, Elijah simply throws his clerical robe—his mantle over Elisha! So much for formality! To my thinking, this is a strong indication that Elijah was totally burned out. (v. 19b)
- Apparently after throwing his robe at Elisha, Elijah just kept walking! Elisha catches up with him, and asks permission to say his goodbyes to his family. (v. 20a)
- Burnt out Elisha’s response is gruff—“Go back again, for what have I done to you?” (v. 20b)
- And back Elisha goes. He not only says his goodbyes, but slaughters the oxen to throw a grand goodbye party. Then and only then did he turn from his farming and follow Elijah. (v. 21)
I have known many Christians over the years. Some surprise me when they say something like “yeah, I used to sing in the choir/teach Sunday School/collect clothing for the poor… but I don’t do that anymore. I’m too old.” I want to tell them this story. You might be through with God, but God might not be through with you!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
What does God still expect from you?
GALATIANS 5:1-5, 13-25
As I said last week, in Galatians 5, Paul is angry. After he left the church in Galatia, other Christians came in and urged the Gentile Christians there to conform to Jewish laws—especially those relating to diet and circumcision. The lectionary calls for verses 1 and 13-25. But verses 2-5 really show Paul’s anger, so I have included them in this reflection.
- In Paul’s opening statement, he declares that through Christ, we have been set free. We are no longer slaves! We must stand firm! He will go on to explain all of this. But right now, he drives this stake in the ground. BAM! (v. 1)
- When someone starts a sentence with “listen”, you know that it’s going to be intense. Paul doesn’t pull any punches. He says that if you allow yourself to be circumcised, then you don’t need Jesus, you need the law. This is tongue-in-cheek, of course, because we all need Jesus. But the point is clear. Belief in Jesus is enough for salvation. All that other stuff simply dilutes what Jesus has already done on the cross for you. (vv. 2-5)
- Alluding to slavery, we are told that we are called to freedom. Freedom from having to comply to all those 613 Laws of Moses. That doesn’t mean that we are free to have a wild all-night beach party. No! It means that we are free to care for one another without worrying about whether or not we are breaking one of God’s laws. (v. 13)
- How can this be? It is because the whole law is summed up in the law to love our neighbor as ourselves. The law is simply detailed examples of how to love. (v. 14)
- The key verse in this passage is verse 16. Live by the Spirit, not the flesh.
- Paul contrasts life “in the flesh” vs. life “in the Spirit”. When he says “flesh”, he is not just referring to lusty desires. He uses it to describe all the typical selfish desires that we humans have. He gives us a short list in verses 20 and 21. I’m sure you can think of a few more to add to this list—we are so good at living by the flesh! (vv. 17-21)
- Being led by the Spirit is none of these things. Verses 22 and 23 are a good starter list. Let’s do these instead!
- In conclusion, he says that our earthly desires are all nailed to the cross of Christ. They die there. (v. 24)
- Instead, we should be guided by the Spirit to do all those things listed in verses 22 and 23 (and more). If we do those things, we are fulfilling the Law of the Spirit. (v. 25)
But rules are a good thing, right? They give order to life, and keep us on the straight and narrow, right? Most of the time, they do. But sometimes, a person needs to be healed on the Sabbath. Or in order to feed your family, you need to work on Sunday. Sometimes loving our neighbor means pushing order aside to show compassion for those around us. Because Jesus came, we are free from the worrisome burden of trying to comply with a bunch of detailed rules. When we are in the Spirit, we may let love be our guide.
At this point in Luke’s narrative, Jesus shifts from preaching in Galilee to working his way toward Jerusalem. There, he will complete his work. Along the way, he stops at some Samaritan villages. The Samaritans were the people to the north of Judah. Over the centuries, a division grew between them and the Jews of the south. One example is that Jerusalem was not their worship center. They worshipped on Mt. Gerizim. There were many other sharp differences as well, but they still worshipped the Lord God Yahweh.
- A lot is being said in this first verse of our passage. We’re being told that the time is coming for Jesus to be “taken up”. It is not explained, other than to say that Jesus now is set on heading to Jerusalem. I think he may know what lies ahead. (v. 51)
- He plans to stop along the way and teach, as was his custom. The next stop was at a Samaritan village. But since they knew that he was headed to Jerusalem and not toward their holy mountain, he did not receive a warm welcome. (vv. 52-53)
- The “Sons of Thunder”, James and John, wanted to get even with those darned Samaritans. Instead, Jesus rebukes James and John, and they move on to another village. (vv. 54-56)
- Along the way, Jesus warns them of the pitfalls of living the life of an itinerant preacher. (vv. 57-58)
- Some interesting stories are included here. Some people want to follow Jesus, but want to get things in their lives in order first. Jesus’ answers seem harsh. But Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to suffer greatly. There is no time to lose. He calls others to share his sense of priority. (vv. 59-62)
The story of Elisha throwing a goodbye party sounded good. But Jesus sets the bar higher. He instills a sense of urgency in us. God should come first! Here’s the test:
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
You have a sink full of dirty dishes, but something tells you that you should read a bible story to your grandchild. Which do you do?