June 26 – July 2
II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
The two books of Kings were originally one book, a history, or at least an account, of the reigns of kings from Solomon to shortly before the Babylonian Exile. So here in the second book we have the conclusion to the story of Elijah’s long struggle to reform Israel told in the first book. His old enemies, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, are dead. He has acquired his side-kick, Elisha. It is time to go. Leading up to his assumption into Heaven, we have a story of young Elisha’s loyalty, after the event, of his inheritance of his master’s spirit, symbolized by the cloak Elijah passed to him, which still can still open the waters of the Jordon to let him pass through dry.
The assumption or translation into Heaven is a remarkable story to find in this collection of ancient documents we call the Bible. It vaguely resembles the Assumption of Christ in the early pages of Acts. It suggests that Elijah’s spirit was not confined in Sheol, but is free to walk the earth as well as the City of God. Later, both Jews and Christians who believed in a coming eschatological event, thought Elijah would return as harbinger of the coming parousia. Some of Jesus’s followers thought he was Elijah (Matt 16:14; Luke 9:8), and Elijah appears with Moses beside Jesus in the Transformation (Matt. 17:3-4; Mark 9:4-5).
The only figure in Scripture other than Elijah and Jesus who seems to have left Earth, not by dying, but by translation into heaven, is Enoch, one of the long-lived ancestors before the Flood. “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more because God took him”. Enoch’s story is told in four sentences only (Genesis 5:21-24), but his exit from Earth is so striking that it gave rise to several pseudepigraphic books (not accepted into Scripture).
ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21.
Elijah has pretty much won his battle against the spread of Baalism in the northern Jewish state, Judah. Now God extends his mission to the southern state, Israel. On the way, Elijah calls to service the young farmer, Elisha, to whom he will eventually pass his mission (symbolized by his mantle). Elisha, inspired, burns his bridges behind him. He destroys the means of his livelihood, his oxen and equipment, but in a way that will benefit the poor.
Galatians 5:1, 13-25.
Paul seems to be scolding his followers into behaving morally. Does that contradict his main message, that we are saved by faith, not by what we do? In Paul’s view, good behavior does not earn us a place in heaven, but when we are in a state of grace, we do what pleases God. Good works are the effect, not the cause of Grace. But Paul is writing to Greeks and Romans who come from a world of magic and pagan rites where no one cares about moral behavior. They sometimes ask, If we are saved by faith, aren’t we free to do anything at all? The logical answer would be, “If you are in a state of grace you are free to do what you will,” but Paul thinks that would be too risky.