For Feb. 19, 2012: the last Sunday in Epiphany, Year B

2 Kings 2:1-12
Today’s reading looks back to the day that Elisha inherits the mantle of his adoptive father, the great prophet Elijah. Elisha requests a double share of Elijah’s spirit not out of greed but because the other prophets would know that was the true heir’s proper share. Elisha certainly needs it: serving as God’s voice to the kings of Israel and Judah, when it is likelier than not that they turn their backs on God, is challenging.
THE EPISTLE 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul confronts a difficult question: why do some people not accept the gospel? His answer here is that they are being kept in the dark by someone powerful who is not our God, for our God is in the business of giving light.

Further thoughts
A common thread in today’s three readings is the question of who is God’s heir, and how we know.
In 2 Kings, Elijah is being taken up to God without dying first, and he is leaving behind Elisha, who was no prophet until Elijah called him away from the plow. It would seem that at least some of the existing prophets are skeptical about Elisha’s qualifications for prophethood: this would explain their insistence on making Elijah’s passing their business. It is not for them to decide, however, nor even for Elijah to determine. But it pleases God to answer the question in grand style: Elisha receives Elijah’s mantle and the heir’s double portion of Elijah’s spirit, not to mention the vision of fire that has him gabbling like a little boy in sheer exaltation. And then he takes up Elijah’s mantle and sets about the work that is his inheritance.
Paul also has to deal with a divided religious community each part of which looks askance at the claims to salvation advanced by the other. The verses that precede this reading make it clear that Paul is speaking less of unbelievers outside the church altogether than of unbelievers who are (or claim to be) in it, who remain deeply suspicious of claims to salvation that fail to follow their preferred path. These unbelievers, Paul says, are blinded to the gospel. “The god of this world” could be Satan, of course, but it could also be a human perception that makes God too pettily human and too easily comprehended by human minds and in human words. His point, however, is that it is God’s pleasure to offer light and adoption to for both Jew and Greek—which is to say, to everyone—along with the duty and honor of becoming a slave to all for Jesus’ sake.
Finally, there is today’s gospel. Jesus’ preaching and wonder-working have gained him a reputation as a prophet, though even Peter and Andrew doubtless still see him primarily as the carpenter’s son. Then, on the mountain, they see Jesus transfigured in light beyond light and visited by the two great figures of Jewish history, topped off by the divine announcement that Jesus is God’s very own beloved son. Peter blurts out an offer to that, on the face of it, sounds inane and overwhelmed. Peter is onto something, though: on some level he senses that this astonishing sonship extends through Jesus to the rest of us—and so, for all of us, does the work of God that goes with it.

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