Engaging the Word: Readings for 6/26/16 (The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost)

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 By Barbara Klugh

 2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14; Psalm 77:1-2,11-20; Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings Elijah anoints Elisha as his successor and is taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire, Paul reminds us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and Jesus says, “Follow me.”

Elijah’s ascension by unknown Serbian painter, 18th century. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Elijah’s ascension by unknown Serbian painter, 18th century. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14: After last week’s reading from 1 Kings, God still had some work for Elijah to do before he received his “retirement plan.” Between last week’s and this week’s reading, God told Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor. Elijah found Elisha, took off his mantle, and placed it over Elisha, symbolizing his prophetic calling. Elisha then became Elijah’s servant and disciple.

In our reading, Elijah and Elisha are on the move, and it is near the time for Elijah to be taken up to heaven. Three times Elijah tries to leave Elisha behind, but Elisha says, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Elijah strikes the water of the Jordan River, and the water divides, and they cross on dry land—an echo of Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea. Elisha asks to inherit a double share of Elijah’s spirit, which is the share of the eldest son. Elijah knows that this is something only God can give, and tells Elisha that if he sees him being taken up, the request will be granted. And Elisha did see the horses and the chariot of fire and Elijah ascending in a whirlwind to heaven. Elisha cries out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” In his distress, he tore his clothes. He picks up Elijah’s mantle and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” The water parted, showing that Elisha had indeed received his mentor’s spirit, and Elisha “went over” to his destiny.

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20: Psalm 77 begins with an anguished lament as the psalmist feels deserted by God. Then, in the portion we will pray, he remembers and meditates on God’s great deeds of deliverance on behalf of his people.

The Golden Rule by Norman Rockwell, 1961. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Golden Rule by Norman Rockwell, 1961. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Galatians 5:1,13-25: In our readings from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians up to now, Paul made the case that we are set free from the yoke of the law. Now Paul wants us to know how to live into our freedom in Christ. Paul writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Our freedom isn’t meant for self-indulgence, but that, “through love, [we] become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” After contrasting the desires of the flesh (vices) and the fruit of the Spirit (virtues), Paul concludes with the instruction, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”

The Man at the plow by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Man at the plow by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 9:51-62: Our passage from Luke’s gospel begins, “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This signals a new phase in the gospel, beginning what is called the “travel narrative.” In contrast to Mark (one chapter), and Matthew (two chapters), Luke devotes ten chapters to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. As we study Luke’s gospel through November, we’ll see that the readings are not only about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, but also about the disciples’ spiritual journey as Jesus teaches them (and us) what it means to become “fit for the kingdom of God.”

Because of long-standing animosity between the Jews and Samaritans, most Jews avoided Samaritan territory. Not Jesus. Jesus sent messengers to have a Samaritan village to make ready for him, but they refused. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He told them to “shake the dust off your feet” when they were not welcomed. James and John already forgot this teaching and wanted to retaliate by commanding fire from heaven to consume them—they were remembering a story about Elijah calling down fire from heaven to destroy King Ahaziah’s men—but Jesus rebuked them; revenge and violence is not the way of Jesus.

In the second part of our reading, three would-be followers have encounters with Jesus. The first says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To me, Jesus is telling him that in order to live the kingdom life, one must be homeless to the ways of this world. “To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’” Shocking! But, how often do we want to delay following Jesus, and all for great reasons—we have family and social obligations, busy lives, but Jesus will brook no excuses. The third wants to say goodbye to his family, but Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Don’t look back or you’ll have a crooked life.

These are hard sayings. I went to bed last night thinking, “This is impossible! Who can really do this?” But this morning, I heard a gentle whisper, “Of course you can’t if you rely on yourself. But with God, all things are possible. That’s why he sent you the Holy Spirit.”

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