Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Take Care Not To Perform Righteous Deeds So That People May See Them.

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Kings 2:1, 6-14
When the LORD was about to take Elijah
up to heaven in a whirlwind,
he and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here;
the LORD has sent me on to the Jordan.”
“As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live,
I will not leave you,” Elisha replied.
And so the two went on together.
Fifty of the guild prophets followed and
when the two stopped at the Jordan,
they stood facing them at a distance.
Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up
and struck the water, which divided,
and both crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha,
“Ask for whatever I may do for you,
before I am taken from you.”
Elisha answered,
“May I receive a double portion of your spirit.”
“You have asked something that is not easy,”
Elijah replied.
“Still, if you see me taken up from you,
your wish will be granted; otherwise not.”
As they walked on conversing,
a flaming chariot and flaming horses came between them,
and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
When Elisha saw it happen he cried out,
“My father! my father! Israel’s chariots and drivers!”
But when he could no longer see him,
Elisha gripped his own garment and tore it in two.

Then he picked up Elijah’s mantle that had fallen from him,
and went back and stood at the bank of the Jordan.
Wielding the mantle that had fallen from Elijah,
Elisha struck the water in his turn and said,
“Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?”
When Elisha struck the water it divided and he crossed over.
Today we move on to the Second Book of Kings and we continue where we left off with the First Book. The division into two books is artificial and no such division is found in the earliest Hebrew bibles. The passage we are reading today acts as an introduction to the story of the prophet Elisha. Today we bring the story of Elijah to a conclusion and see Elisha taking over as his successor.

As Elijah is about to leave to go to the Jordan in obedience to the Lord’s call, he tells Elisha to remain behind. Whether this was said to test Elisha is not clear but Elisha renewed his commitment as a disciple of Elijah and insisted on following him.

They are followed by another fifty fellow-prophets who will be witnesses to what is about to happen by the banks of the Jordan which the two prophets have now reached. Elijah then takes his cloak, rolls it up and strikes the waters of the river. As with Moses long ago crossing the Red Sea, the water of the river divides to right and left and the two prophets walk across on dry ground.

It is then that Elijah, about to go away, invites Elisha to make a final request. The younger prophet boldly asks to be given a double share of Elijah’s spirit. Elisha was not expressing a desire for a ministry twice as great as Elijah’s, but he was using terms derived from inheritance law to express his desire for a full sharing in Elijah’s ministry. In Jewish society it was normal for the elder son to inherit a double share of his father’s property. So, in making his request, Elisha is asking to be regarded as the genuine heir to Elijah’s prophetic powers and spirit.

Elijah replies that it is a difficult request to honour, for ultimately the giving of such a gift lies with God and not with Elijah. But he promises that there will be a sign given by which Elisha will know whether his request has been granted. And that will be the Lord’s doing and not Elijah’s. God indicates that the request is granted by allowing Elisha to see what is hidden from other human eyes, namely, Elijah being taken up to heaven.

All of a sudden, a chariot of fire with two fiery horses came between the two men and Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind. Elisha alone could see this; a sure sign that his request had been granted. By riding the chariot, a symbol of Israel’s strength, it is clear that Elijah and not the king is the Lord’s true representative among his people. And Elijah, like Enoch before him (Genesis 5:24), was taken up to heaven bodily without experiencing death; like Moses (Deuteronomy 34:4-6), he was taken away outside the promised land.

It was generally believed by later generations that Elijah would return to die the natural death that is the fate of all. And his return was expected to herald the imminent coming of the Messiah. In the Gospel, John the Baptist is seen to fill that role.

Elisha then tore his own clothes in half, perhaps in grief at the loss of his master and perhaps as signifying the end of his former life. He picked up the cloak of Elijah which had fallen off as Elijah was carried away in the chariot, thereby symbolically taking on Elijah’s ministry and mission.

Once again Elisha went back to the River Jordan’s bank. As he had seen Elijah do earlier, he struck the water with Elijah’s cloak while he prayed: “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he struck the water, it divided to right and left and Elisha crossed over. The power was not in Elisha or in the cloak but only in the Lord God, of whom the prophet is an agent, but it was also a clear indication that the prophet’s role and powers had been passed on to Elisha.

In crossing the Jordan as Joshua had before him, Elisha is shown to be Elijah’s “Joshua” (Elisha and Joshua are very similar names, Elisha meaning “God saves” and Joshua “The Lord saves”). Elisha would play the role of Joshua (who led the Israelites into the promised land) as Elijah played the role of Moses (who did not get to cross the Jordan).

In this story we can see:
- the loyalty of Elisha’s discipleship
- his being called by God to carry on the mission of Elijah
- his becoming, like Elijah, the instrument of God for his people.

In some way, this applies to each one of us in our relationship with Jesus.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 31
Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.
How great is the goodness, O LORD,
which you have in store for those who fear you,
And which, toward those who take refuge in you,
you show in the sight of the children of men.
Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.
You hide them in the shelter of your presence
from the plottings of men;
You screen them within your abode
from the strife of tongues.
Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.
Love the LORD, all you his faithful ones!
The LORD keeps those who are constant,
but more than requites those who act proudly.
Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense
from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do
in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray
in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray,
go to your inner room, close the door,
and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to others to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
Sermon on the Mount (cont’d):

Our reading contains a warning which must have been very relevant in the early Church but has not lost its meaning in our own day.

Prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. On the outside, they seem to have the image of Jesus, his gentleness and love, but in fact they are religious predators, using people for their own ends. There have been unfortunate examples of this in some so-called ‘televangelists’ who, in the name of the Lord Jesus, ripped off countless numbers of trusting people, many of them elderly and not well off, by making them pledge large sums money they could not afford.

How can you recognise them? By their ‘fruits’, by the way they behave and not just by what they say or the claims they make. It is not that difficult to separate the genuine from the false. As Jesus says, it is not possible for a bad tree to consistently produce good fruit nor for a genuinely good tree to produce bad fruit. Very often we have to admit that we try to make a good impression on people and we often try to hide from others what we believe to be our weaknesses.

Integrity and transparency are precious qualities to be found in any person and they are not easy to achieve. Most of us wear masks of some kind. Most of us can identify with the title of John Powell’s book - ‘Why Am I Afraid To Tell You Who I Am?’ In fact, people can often identify more easily with a person whose faults are admitted. They feel that they are dealing with the real person and not a phoney. This can apply very much to pastors and other religious leaders.

Jesus is calling on us today to be really genuine people. Take care of the inside and the outside will take care of itself.

*Living Space
The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.'

'And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.'

I would not have noticed the repetition of this phrase, if today's reading had not been set out so well, like the refrain of three verses in a poem.

I was trying to work out why the reading about Elijah passing on his prophetic mantle to Elisha had been paired with the warnings against ostentatious almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Perhaps it is because there is so much hidden spiritual truth in today's Old Testament narrative.

Elisha and Elijah show an intense kind of shared spiritual integrity. They are on a strange, final, public pilgrimage, but there is no sense that their actions are for the benefit of the growing crowd of local prophets. They are completely absorbed.