The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8, 30 June 2019

Track One:
II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

Track Two:
I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Psalm 16

Galatians 5:1, 13-25
St. Luke 9:51-62

Background: Samaritans

If we understand that the books of the Pentateuch were written much later in the late seventh or early sixth century (BCE) then we can have a clue about the Samaritans and the rift between the north and the south in the stories of the rivalries amongst the sons of Jacob. In Deuteronomy, which originated in Judah, the north is portrayed as a wicked nation, forgetting their covenant with YHWH. The despoiling of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 720 BCE is given as evidence of their wickedness and the judgment of YHWH. During the post-exilic period, the jury is mixed. Kings measures out a certain inclusivity, whereas Ezra and Nehemiah see the returnees as part of a unified twelve tribes. Chronicles focuses entirely on Judah and ignores the north. The Samaritans saw themselves as descendants of the so-called “ten lost tribes”, which runs counter to the Assyrian policy of deporting the residents of conquered territory and resettling it with other peoples. Thus, Judah saw the Samaritan claim as suspect. During the horrific period of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 BCE) with his difficult policies over against the Jews, the Samaritans thought it wise to disassociate themselves from the Jews. It was ineffective however with their own society being divided amongst those who Hellenized and those who sought the old ways. During the Roman period, the Samaritans became a part of the Herodian Kingdom, and later became a part of the province of Judea.

Track One:

First Reading: II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.

Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

It is a shame that the framers of the Lectionary have elided three verses of this pericope, eliminating a charming aspect of this event, told in a folk-tale form. You can read them here. This story closes the story of Elijah, and sets up Elisha as his heir, recipient of his graces. In the elided verses we meet the “sons of the prophets”, i.e., those who were preparing to enter the guild of prophets. Had Elisha once been one of them?

The story then proceeds to a quiet place, to the Jordan. It is not only a change of scene, but places these men at a place that has been a part and will continue to be a part of the national story. With the parting of the Jordan we have a repetition of a similar parting when the people enter the promised land for the first time, but really a repetition of the Sea of Reeds parting under Moses. Like Moses, Elijah is literally outside of Israel when he is taken up into heaven, and Elisha will have to reenter Israel with a new role and persona. He knows himself, and perhaps what he sees as his inadequacies and thus asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. The proof of his worthiness is whether or not he will be able to witness Elijah being taken up.

Once again fire becomes a hallmark of Elijah’s ministry (remember the fire in the contest between Elijah and the priests of Ba’al.) As Elijah is taken up (here he becomes a model for Christ’s resurrection/ascension), Elisha grabs onto the mantel of Elijah – but just half of it. The question the story ask is, “Will this portion be enough?” Again, the waters are struck with the mantel, and the waters part inviting Elisha back into the land of Israel, back into the suasion of YHWH.

Breaking open II Kings:
1.    Who have been mentors in your life?
2.    What did you learn from them?
3.    Did you want to take their “mantle?”

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 Voce mea ad Dominum

     I will cry aloud to God; *
I will cry aloud, and he will hear me.
     In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; *
my hands were stretched out by night and did not tire;
I refused to be comforted.
11    I will remember the works of the Lord, *
and call to mind your wonders of old time.
12    I will meditate on all your acts *
and ponder your mighty deeds.
13    Your way, O God, is holy; *
who is so great a god as our God?
14    You are the God who works wonders *
and have declared your power among the peoples.
15    By your strength you have redeemed your people, *
the children of Jacob and Joseph.
16    The waters saw you, O God;
the waters saw you and trembled; *
the very depths were shaken.
17    The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered; *
your arrows flashed to and fro;
18    The sound of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world; *
the earth trembled and shook.
19    Your way was in the sea,
and your paths in the great waters, *
yet your footsteps were not seen.
20    You led your people like a flock *
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

What begins as a private prayer soon turns to a poem of national memory of what God has done. The Hebrew name for God in this psalm is Yah. It is not clear as to how this name came into being and whether it is related to the name YHWH or not. The psalmist is in a reverie, however, over the works of Yah. Here, however, the name changes to Elohim, or to El. Perhaps the psalmist was making certain that we recognized God in God’s many names. 

At verse 16, the theme changes to the waters. Some of this is a remembrance of the cosmic myth in which God conquers the chaos of the waters at creation. It is also a remembrance of the Sea of Reeds miracle, with Moses parting the waters. The recollection is not just at that event, with the psalmist recalling the power of thunder and lightning – symbols of the creator’s power and victory in creation. Some of these symbols may have been borrowed from Canaanite literature in which the sky god roams the skies in a chariot that thunders as it runs through the heavens. The final verses place God at the Sea of Reeds, and remembers the role of Moses and Aaron.

Breaking open Psalm 77:
1.    How has God blessed this nation?
2.    How has God challenged this nation?
3.    How does God rule over all nations?

Track Two:

First Reading: Kings 19:15-16,19-21

The Lord said to Elijah, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place."

So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?" He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Here the author has a somewhat specious account of Elijah’s power and influence. That he should anoint an Aramean king seems questionable. Perhaps the intent here is to portray God as the God of the nations – not limited to Israel and Judah. In the anointings that are prescribed here the last is the anointing of Elisha. The portrait of Elisha is intriguing. He is discovered working, plowing a field with twelve oxen. That would have made him a wealthy man. That is probably not the point, the twelve being a symbolic number. Elisha is to be the successor to Elijah, and makes this a reality by throwing his mantle on Elisha.

Elisha asks to go kiss his father and mother. This is in contrast to what we read in verse 18 (which the lectionary elides): “And I shall leave in Israel seven thousand, every knee that did not bow to Ba’al and every mouth that did not kiss him.” In honoring his parents, he sets himself apart from those who have not followed YHWH. What is asked of Elisha is that he follow the prophet, a theme that will be repeated in the Gospels with Jesus and the disciples. To make clear his resolution to follow and to be faithful, he slaughters the oxen and cooks them on the wood of their yokes. It is a kind of communion offering outside of the confines of the temple.

Breaking open I Kings
1.    What have you given up in life so that you could pursue a passion?
2.    Who was your mentor in this pursuit?
3.    Whom did you help with this pursuit?

Psalm 16 Conserva me, Domine

     Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
I have said to the Lord, "You are my Lord,
my good above all other."
     All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.
     But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.
     Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.
     Lord, you are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.
     My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
     I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.
     I have set the Lord always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
     My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.
10    For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.
11    You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

What we have here is an excellent picture of religious life in Israel. It is not monochromatic, but of multiple hues. There are those who worship YHWH alone, and there are those whose worship is mixed in with the local cultus as well. The author rejoices in his faithfulness to YHWH. The mixed worship is noted in verses three and four. It’s recollection is similar to the comment elided from the first reading in which God talks about the lips that have kissed the Ba’alim. This is a poem which rejoice in a connection to the God of Israel. It is about life, not death (see verse 10 especially). God shows us the path of life and the fullness of joy.

Breaking open Psalm 16:
1.    What has your religious journey been like?
2.    What are the various places you’ve been on this journey?
3.    What are you faithful to now?

Second Reading: Galatians 5:1,13-25

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Here Paul instructs the people of Galatia on what it means to be in the Community of Jesus. Its first hallmark is freedom, a dismissal from slavery. The slavery he talks about is not actual slavery (although for some of his readers/hearers it may very well have been actual) but rather the slavery of the law. He makes his usual lists. First a listing of works of the flesh, which are to be avoided. There must be a substitution, works of the Spirit. He makes it clear, “There is no law against such things.”They are admirable. He teaches them to not only live by the Spirit but also to be guided by the Spirit.

Breaking open Galatians:
1.    Where do you see freedom in your life?
2.    Where do you see religious freedom?
3.    What are you a slave to?

The Gospel: St. Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." 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." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

We are at a turning point – a point similar to that which Elijah finds himself in the first reading. Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is determination. It is the context, the situation, that informs all that will happen in the subsequent chapters. Again we have a situation in which Jesus and the disciples are in a foreign land, this time Samaria. When the Samaritans discover that Jesus is intent on his decision to go to Jerusalem, they choose not to receive him. The disciples’ desire to punish them is put down be Jesus. The spirit here is one of inclusion.

In the second paragraph we seem to have a parallel situation to that of Elisha. When called to follow Elijah, Elisha wishes to kiss and say good-bye to his parents. Elijah allows this. In the Jesus’ story, one would be disciples expresses that he needs to bury his father. Jesus challenges him. “Let the dead bury the dead.” It is a matter of knowing your priorities for the time is short – we are on our way to Jerusalem to die. As Jesus says, “No looking back.”

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What big decisions have you made in your life?
2.     Was prayer involved?
3.     Were others involved?

Central Idea:               How to be a prophet/disciple

Step 1:                          Have a mentor, ask for the mantel (First Reading Track 1)

                                      Be ready to leave what you thought was important (First Reading Track 2)

Step 2:                          Ask for God’s protection and guidance (Psalms)

Step 3:                          Leave behind ordinary stuff and take on the Spirit (Second Reading)

Step 4:                          Be resolute (Holy Gospel) 

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller


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