Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Proper 8 Year C

Proper 8 C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

II Kings 2:1-2,6-14; Psalm 77:1-2,11-20; OR I Kings 19:15-16,19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62

A dramatic departure befits the pivotal prophet, Elijah.  The Lord's prophet, who rose up in response to the crisis created by the apostasy of the King, Ahab, and his consort, Jezebel, now walks with his successor, Elisha, just "when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind."  Twice Elijah tells Elisha to end their journey together and twice Elisha declares "I will not leave you."  When they reach the river Jordan, fifty prophets await them.  Elijah rolls up his mantle and strikes the water, which parts so the two journey together to the other side on dry soil.  Elijah asks his successor what can he do "before I am taken from you."  Elisha requests "A double share of your spirit."  Elijah responds that this is a very difficult request and is not clear if it will or will not be fulfilled.  "As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven."  Elisha watches until Elijah is out of sight and then tears his own clothing in tow.  He takes up the mantle given him by Elijah, strikes the water of the Jordan, asking "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?"  The water parts and Elisha walks through to the other side.

The psalmist recalls the Lord's "wonders of old" and then asks if any god can compare to God!  He then alludes to "Your strength" that saved "the children of Jacob and Joseph."  And, he cites several theophanies in creation, as well.  And, he recalls the defining journey of faith: when "You led your people like a flock/by the hand of Moses and Aaron."


After Elijah's experience of "sheer silence,"  (see the first alternative reading for Proper 7C), the prophet journeys on to Damascus, as instructed by the Lord, to anoint "Hazael as king over Aran" and "Jehu son of Nimshi over Israel" and Elisha, your successor.  Elijah finds Elisha in the fields, plowing.  Elijah throws his mantle over Elisha, who seemed to have understood immediately the significance.  He asks for time to say farewell to his family, saying "then I will follow you."  But Elijah seems to test Elisha when he arks why he should follow the prophet: "for what have I done to you?"  Elisha is not deterred.  He slaughtered the twelve oxen, feeds the people and "followed Elijah, and became his servant."

According to Robert Alter, psalm 16 requires the interpolations of many translators over the centuries to make sense of unclear phrases in the original Hebrew, (The Book of Psalms, p. 45ff).  But the general thrust treasures "An inheritance [that] fell to me with delight...."  The Lord, unlike other gods, is "always before me."  "So my heart rejoices and my pulse beats with joy...."

Paul retains a conventional list of vices and virtues, but shifts completely one's motivations.  Emphasis on rules leads to a "yoke of slavery," but "for freedom Christ has set us free."  By focusing on one rule, which Jesus placed above all others-- "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"-- one abides in the love of Christ and will be "guided by the Spirit."

In this story unique to Luke's narrative, Jesus makes the destination of his journey more clear, deals with a new set of opponents, Samaritans, and characterizes some costs of journeying with him.  Hostilities between northerners, Samaritans, and southerners, Jews, were longstanding and fierce, so Luke ascribes their rejection of Jesus as due to his destination, Jerusalem.  Two of the Twelve, James and John, suggest a course of action reminiscent of Elijah to "command fire to come down and consume them...."  But Jesus rejects the idea.  As they enter another village, a man asks to follow Jesus, but Jesus tells the man "the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."  To another person, Jesus issues a direct invitation, which is accepted with the proviso, "first let me go and bury my father."  To which Jesus responds, "Let the dead bury the dead," but you go immediately "to proclaim the gospel."  Another person also expresses the desire to follow Jesus, but only after returning home to say farewell.  Again there is an austere response from Jesus: "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Religion that offers a faith that is well-mapped is very appealing,  But biblical narratives offer a faith that is just the opposite.  Elisha insists that he will not leave Elijah, although he has no clear understanding of where this journey will take him or what risks it might entail.  In three different encounters, Luke shows that those who wanted to follow Jesus did not fully appreciate at the time they made the decision the tough choices that might be required or even the significance of their ultimate destination, Jerusalem.  The journey of faith in biblical narratives provides little information about travel conditions, no guarantees for one's comfort, and not even the certainty of a final, safe, destination.  Yet, there is still something irresistible at work.

John Caputo's passionate, intellectually intense The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion, (written when Caputo was on the faculty of that Philadelphia university in the Augustinian tradition, Villanova), concludes that Derrida's life's work leads to a "Jewish Augustinianism." which means "trembling and uncertainty are our constant companions."  Caputo continues:  "The passion [for God] is the only permanence, and the only peace we have is the assurance that things will never settle peacefully into place."  "The restless passion for God, Derrida's love of 'my God,' is meant to set things loose, to set them free, open-ended, Vogelfrei and 'distinerrant,' ... sent without destiny, who knows where."  "For to center everything on a passion for God, to my passion for God, to dream the dream of my God, to say yes, yes to my God, to my passion for God, is to be drawn back into a still deeper decentering and questionability."  "What do I love when I love the impossible?  By what am I inflamed in this passion for God?  By what madness am I driven when I am given without return?  For what do I call when I call for justice?  By what am I called when I am called by justice?  What do I desire when I desire my God?  What do I love when I love my God."  (pp 332-333).

Biblical faith is peripatetic, nomadic, restless, 'homeless,' seeking, discontent, but it offers participation in "the dream of my God."  When Elisha declared, "I will not leave you," and journeyed with the Lord's prophet, he inherited the prophet's mantle and found himself participating in the same mighty acts of God from long ago for his generation.  Luke's story makes it unmistakeably clear that following Jesus does not entail the usual comforts and does not dwell on the past.  It is always on the look out not for a place to finally rest but undertakes the journey which is life itself.