I believe that we can make great mistakes in understanding the Scriptures…
So often we are awed by people who list the books of the bible by memory or quote texts during debates like throwing rocks or spears. They read the passages looking at what they say about the lives of others instead of what they might teach them about themselves.
In our text today there are two central figures with similar names; Elijah and Elisha. The former is the elder/mentor and the later, the younger/apprentice who will soon become the master. It is made apparent that this is the day that the mantle of authority will be passed from Elijah to Elisha.
Just before the pivotal moment Elijah asks his protégé what he might do for him before they finally part. Elisha asks that he might receive the eldest son’s inheritance. In Jewish tradition the estate would be divided and the firstborn male would receive two shares. On the surface this request appears selfish but in reality it brings with it great responsibilities. Elijah tells him that he has invited a heavy burden upon himself but it is in God’s hands to fulfill. Later in the story the younger Elisha displays through his actions that he has indeed been granted the mantle of leadership.
Many years ago I began an avocation known as “Dan’s Diving Service.” I know… a very creative title! If you are bored I invite you to check out the website www.dansdivingservice.org. The “org” suffix indicates that I seldom make any real money. What I enjoy most about the business is that my projects are very “physical” in nature. I am either recovering something from deep water or I am repairing something underwater… and at the end of the job I can turn around and say, “It is fixed. I’m done!” That is seldom if ever true in ministry.
Recently I was asked to remove and later replace two 475 pound propellers underwater. It was an enormous task made more challenging by poor visibility and depth. At the end of the day I lay in bed staring at the ceiling wondering if I had the ability to do the job… It was a difficult moment. Suddenly, it dawned on me that this was my responsibility to complete. I had accepted the job. With that new mindset I began to think less about the difficulties and more about possible solutions. By morning I had my plan and in a matter of hours the job was completed successfully.
Elijah was correct when he told Elisha that what he was asking for was a difficult thing. Accepting a mantle of authority is seldom easy. For the church it means… not just teaching but also living out a life of justice. It means that we cannot stand by when someone “in our group” makes disparaging comments about another person’s lifestyle; even when there is a cost to ourselves. This is true for us as individuals and also as a church.
At the recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) we adopted the Belhar Confession. This confession called upon Christians in South Africa to not only speak but to act against prejudice. It calls upon the church today to do the same with victims of bigotry of all kinds.
Let us pick up the mantle and face the challenges before us!