So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was ploughing. 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 we find Elijah fulfilling the instruction to identify his successor; but why Elisha is chosen is unclear. Elisha is presented as a wealthy farmer with family responsibilities, quite unlike Elijah, an itinerant man of God. Interestingly there is no mention of God at all in this passage; and we are left to surmise about the significance of Elijah’s mantle. In 2 Kings 2 we will discover that it is the hallmark of Elijah’s power and here it seems to be interpreted by Elisha as an invitation to join Elijah on his mission.
The dialogue between the two may prompt us to recall Jesus chastising the disciple called to follow who wanted to attend to family matters first (Matt.818-22). Scholars differ as to whether Elijah’s words are a rejection of Elisha because he wanted to delay, or should be interpreted as a warning to him – do you realise what you will be letting yourself in for, if you follow me?
Either way, Elisha is determined that his future will be in Elijah’s service. He closes down his farming enterprise in a spectacular way and uses the ‘proceeds’ to provide a farewell feast for the community; there can be no going back.
Bringing one venture to a proper conclusion, and celebrating this with others, before embarking on another, is a good model to follow. Too often loose ends from the past get in the way of new endeavours; and we do well to heed Elisha’s decisiveness.
This story is symbolic of absolute commitment. It is symbolic of a willingness to follow a man of God without knowing all the implications that will follow, or where the journey will lead. It is symbolic of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
Loving God, help me to know when it’s time to hand over my responsibilities to someone else; and give me the grace to realise that such a person needs to be quite different from me.
Help me, if called to undertake a new venture, to ensure that I conclude current work properly before changing direction.
Help me to be fully committed in my discipleship, ready to go wherever Christ leads. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.
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