ColumnsSunday’s Word

The call of Elisha

June 30, 2019


1 Kgs 19:16, 19-21

The call of Elisha

Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-11

You are my inheritance

Gal 5:1, 13-18

You are called to freedom

Lk 9:51-62

Jesus turns toward Jerusalem 063019.cfm

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The special seasons of the liturgical cycle are now over, and we return to the ordinary time of the church year. From now until Advent, we will follow the Gospel of Luke as our guide. Rather than have the feast determine the readings, the readings will determine the celebration, as we travel our way through the Gospel story.

And we return to that Gospel narrative at a crucial moment. Jesus’ ministry in Galilee is now over, and the next part of the story begins. He “sets his face” toward Jerusalem — which is a more literal translation of today’s notice that “he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” With that, the longest part of the Gospel narrative, as Luke has arranged it, is on its way. For Jesus will be traveling toward Jerusalem for the next two chapters. Finally, in Luke 19:41-48, he will enter the city.

This journey will involve most of the teachings of Jesus in this Gospel. Luke has a source of those teachings in a document that only he among the Gospel writers had in his possession. We will be reading from that special source from now until 18:14, after which Luke again joins in with Mark’s narrative. So from now until the second Sunday of November, the Gospel readings will be taken from this account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. It will be a long trip.

The journey begins with an account of their traveling through a Samaritan village. Samaria was south of Galilee, and needed to be crossed to get to Judea, and Jerusalem. Finding unreceptive villagers, James and John propose drastic measures. They would have heavenly fire called down upon the town. With this, a secondary theme of this Gospel is sounded — the Elijah story. Elijah is famous for calling down fire from heaven in his contest with the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:38). James and John remind us of that.

Luke differs from Matthew and Mark in his treatment of Elijah. Where they connect Elijah with John the Baptist, Luke does not (except for one verse, Luke 1:17). He omits the verses they connect with John, and substitutes other references that connect Elijah with Jesus himself.

For the other Gospels, Elijah, who left in a fiery chariot, and therefore had not yet died, was expected to return to herald the coming Messiah. They see John the Baptist in that role. But Luke is more interested in seeing Jesus as fulfilling the role of the prophet, and the followers of Jesus to be like Elisha, the successor to Elijah.

In the initial statement of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus says that he will be like Elijah, who went to a non-
Jewish widow in Zarephath, or like Elisha who went to the Syrian commander Naaman (Luke 4:25-27). Luke’s interest is the mission of the Jesus movement beyond Judea, which he will elaborate more fully in the Acts of the Apostles. But now we are simply laying the groundwork, as we hear in the words of Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.

Today’s reading continues on to mention other calls to discipleship. These seem to be more successful, for at least the candidates appear more willing. Jesus warns of the difficulties, and in that anticipates the story that lies ahead. The language in these accounts again remind us of Elijah, and his call of Elisha. Requests to finish up affairs at home (Luke 9:59-60), talk of setting a hand to the plow (9:61-62), hint at the story of Elisha’s call in our first reading.

Elisha’s response is unequivocal. He leaves his former life behind, completely, slaughtering the oxen and burning the plow. His life is now one of prophecy.

For reflection: Luke presents Elisha as a model for the disciple. Even today?

Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.