Elijah, Elisha and Jesus Thirteenth Sunday Ordinary Time C

Elijah, Elisha and Jesus Thirteenth Sunday Ordinary Time C

1 Kings 19:16B, 19-21 Psalm 16 Galatians 5:1, 13-1 Luke 9:51-62

            Today’s first reading focuses on the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The passage opens with God telling Elijah to anoint Elisha who will succeed Elijah as a prophet. Elijah then goes to Elisha who was plowing a field with “twelve yoke of oxen.” 

         Elisha responds by asking Elijah if he can kiss his father and mother goodbye. Elijah allows him to do so. After saying goodbye to his parents, Elisha then takes his yoke of oxen, kills them, boils their flesh over a fire he made from his wooden plowing equipment and gave the meat to his people to eat. Then, Elisha followed Elijah.

         As John Bergsma comments, Elisha’s family would have been upset at him for killing valuable farm animals, cooking their meat over a fire made up of valuable farm equipment and, giving the meat of the boiled oxen to people to eat. By taking this drastic step, Elisha clearly, and publicly sent the message that he was following Elijah and not returning since he had very little to return to. [1]

         Although it might not be immediately evident, the Gospel passage is related to Elijah and Elisha. This becomes clear when we remember that Elijah had repeatedly called down fire from heaven to consume his enemies and fire came down from heaven multiple times, killing over a hundred people. (2 Kings 1:10-14)

         Elijah’s successor Elisha, although at times gentler and more merciful than Elijah, also had a stern side to him. In response to boys who mocked him by calling him “baldhead” Elisha cursed them and in response to his curse, two bears came out of the forest to kill 42 of the boys. (2 Kings 2:23-25)

         It is in this context, that James and John viewed Jesus and for this reasons that they asked Jesus when in a Samaritan town to “call down fire from heaven to consume them”. If the great prophet Elijah did this then why wouldn’t Jesus especially upon a people that, according to Flavius Josephus, cites Pitre, were known for murdering Jewish people who passed through Samaritan territory and for deliberately desecrating the Jerusalem Temple with dead bones.[2]

         Jesus surprises James and John by angrily refusing to call down fire from heaven since Jesus came not with the weapons of fierceness but with his way of truthful, sacrificial love and mercy. Jesus also reveals that not only are his ways different from the prophets of old and but that he is greater than the prophets of old, greater than even Elijah and Elisha. Jesus reveals his unique greatness by responding differently to someone who wanted to follow Jesus but asked if he could bury his father first. Jesus responded with “Let the dead bury the dead.” 

This response, comments Pitre, indicates that loyalty to Jesus takes precedence over love of our parents. According to the logic of the Ten Commandments the only person who is to be loved more than our parents is God, for the commandment to obey our parents comes immediately after three commandments on obeying God. By telling the would-be follower to “Let the dead bury the dead” Jesus was indicating that he is greater than parents since he is more than human he is also divine, the divine merciful Son of God, and as divine Jesus demands our highest form of love.

Praise be to Jesus Christ – Father Peter

[1] John Bergsma, The Word of the Lord: Reflections on the Sunday Mass Readings for Year C, 373.

[2] Brant Pitre, “The Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C),” catholicproductions.com.

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