Archive for the '2 Kings' Category

For Feb. 15, 2015: Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

The Reading                                                         2 Kings 2:1-12

When Elisha inherits the mantle of his adoptive father, the great prophet Elijah, he requests a double share of Elijah’s spirit, because the other prophets would know that was the true heir’s proper share. Elisha certainly needs it to be God’s voice to the God-spurning kings of Israel and Judah.

The Response                                                       Psalm 50:1-6

In Psalm 50, the Lord summons all the earth for judgment. Showing the Lord’s power are the consuming flame and the storm. He will be judge and prosecutor. Verse 7, not included here, is sobering: “O Israel, I will bear witness against you; for I am God, your God.”

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.

The Gospel                                                            Mark 9:2-9

As Mark 9 opens, Jesus has foretold his death to the disciples, horrifying Peter. Then Jesus takes Peter and two others up on the mountain, where they behold Jesus transfigured in light beyond light with the two great figures of Jewish history and hear the divine announcement that Jesus is God’s very own beloved son.


Further thoughts

The 1982 Book of Common Prayer refers to this Sunday as the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and it is certainly that. Methodists and Lutherans, among others, call it Transfiguration Sunday, from the Revised Common Lectionary readings that include the mountaintop experience with Jesus that so bedazzled and bemused Peter. (We Episcopalians, like our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox colleagues, also celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6.)

A much older name for this Sunday that precedes Ash Wednesday is Quinquagesima Sunday. That is the name used in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and it is the name under which, as a child more than a few decades ago, I learned about this Sunday in what is now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Quinquagesima is Latin for ‘fiftieth’: this is the fiftieth day, Sundays included, before Easter. It is preceded less precisely by Septuagesima Sunday (the Sunday nearest the seventieth day before Easter: septuaginta is Latin for ‘seventy’) and Sexagesima Sunday (the Sunday nearest the sixtieth day before Easter). Together, these three Sundays make up the pre-Lenten season, the season in which, historically, Christians turned from the joy of Christmas and Epiphany and prepared for the solemnity of Lent. In the Eastern Orthodox world, the week up to Quinquagesima Sunday is the last week before Easter in which meat products may be eaten, and the week after Quinquagesima Sunday—“Cheesefare Week”—is the last week in which dairy products are permitted.

Among Roman Catholics, of course, there are the traditions of the Carnival season (from Latin carnis ‘of flesh or meat’), the period of hearty eating (and sometimes hearty partying) before the Lenten feast; in some regions, Carnival begins right after the Epiphany, in others it is the week before Ash Wednesday, but most commonly Carnival starts on Quinquagesima Sunday; it always ends the evening before Ash Wednesday. Since the 15th century this time has been known in English as Shrovetide, from the verb shrive ‘to hear confession and/or pronounce absolution: during Shrovetide one went to confession—got shriven—so as to be morally clean for Ash Wednesday. Shrove Tuesday is the same day as Mardi Gras (French, ‘Fat Tuesday’) or Fastnacht (German, ‘evening of the fast’), the day before Ash Wednesday on which, by tradition, one eats pancakes in order to use up the last of the butter (fat) and eggs in one’s house before Ash Wednesday morning.

In the 1960s and 1970s both the Roman Catholics and the Anglican communion turned away from observing the pre-Lenten season in order to emphasize the Epiphany. This shift in emphasis is certainly reflected in the Revised Common Lectionary readings, if we bear in mind that the Greek word ἐπιφάνεια (epiphaneia) means ‘manifestation’ or ‘appearing’. Just as Epiphanytide begins with the first manifestation of the Christ Child to the wise men, so it ends with the first appearance of Jesus in something of the Light from which he came before his birth and to which he has arisen.

What if, however else we observe Lent, we make a point of humbly sharing “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6)?

For June 30, 2013: Proper 8, Year C

The Reading            2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

We resume our review of the history of God’s people with the second book of Kings. Today’s reading tells how Elisha inherits the mantle—literally—of his adoptive father, the great prophet Elijah. Elisha requests a double share of Elijah’s spirit not from greed but because that is the proper share of the true heir. Elisha certainly needs it to serve as God’s voice to the kings of Israel and Judah, who as often as not turn their backs on God.

The Response            Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 Page 693, BCP

“I will cry aloud to God; I will cry aloud, and he will hear me.”

The Epistle            Galatians 5:1,13-25

Some members of the church at Galatia argued that being circumcised and keeping the Jewish feasts meant that one could do whatever one wanted otherwise. In today’s Epistle reading, Paul argues forcefully to the contrary. It’s worth pointing out that, of the fifteen works of the flesh he cites, more than half are clear offenses against other people: that is, failures to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The Gospel            Luke 9:51-62

“They said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them.”


Further thoughts

A common theme in all three of today’s reading is the connection between power and love.

The reading from 2 Kings omits the verses in which, at the stopping points in the journey of Elijah and Elisha, all the other prophets of Yahweh keep asking Elisha whether he knows that his master will be taken from him. One suspects that they dare not approach the powerful prophet Elijah himself, so instead they test his apprentice’s power. The relationship between Elijah and Elisha is not merely a master-apprentice relationship, however: Elijah has been Elisha’s father in all but the biological sense. It is the love between them that gives Elisha the power to stay with Elijah in spite of being told he may leave, to the very end; one senses also that Elisha’s stubborn love is a greater comfort to Elijah on his final journey than the great man would like to let on; and it may well be as much a sense of loss more than anything else that impels Elisha to make the first test of the power that he has inherited.

The passage from Galatians is less symbolic. Paul explains—perhaps with some exasperation—that the salvation of God confers power, but not the power to do whatever one darned well pleases irrespective of the effects on others: it is instead the power in others’ lives that one gains without seeking it through reliably acting in love, and it is the power of each exercise of love to heal and hallow the worn and aching hearts in this worn and aching world.

Jesus underlines the point by living it. His followers must not throw their weight around, nor have they leave to expect wealth, renown, acceptance, or even a place to stay that isn’t someone else’s to give. Ours are not to be the lives in which the loose ends are neatly tied up and under our control. Instead, Jesus tells us, we should prepare to give our love and even ourselves for the sake of restoring God’s justice and mercy for all souls.

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.

For Feb. 12, 2012: 6 Epiphany, Year B

The Reading            2 Kings 5:1-14

The story of Naaman’s leprosy is familiar but full of surprises, beginning with the fact that Naaman the mighty general leads an army that has been beating up on Israel and taking slaves. It is through little people and little things that great Naaman gets his cure—and Naaman, given a little time, is bright enough to figure it out.


The Epistle            1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Athletic competition was part of the culture in first-century Corinth. Today’s Epistle reading points to the athlete’s focus as a model for the kind of disciplined living that honors God; the prize, beyond our own salvation is drawing souls to Christ.


Further thoughts

The readings for this Sunday feature winners and losers—or perhaps more accurately people who’ve had to rethink just what constitutes winning.

Through most of human history, one’s social status has been determined by who one is connected to and related to, plus one’s ability to take independent action. By that standard, the biggest losers in today’s readings are the little slave girl, snatched out of Israel and away from her family, and the leper in the gospel. The big winners—at least at the beginning of the reading from 2 Kings and in the psalm—are Naaman and his king, with their wealth and might and their far-reaching networks of support and validation, and the psalmist who is so on top of the world.

But Naaman gets an ugly skin disease, and the psalmist gets a terrifying reminder of his mortality, and they begin to experience life as losers. Each of them suddenly finds himself in territory that’s all too familiar to the leper and the slave: the leper’s duty is to disappear altogether from decent human society, and the slave is invisible by in plain sight. Naaman is new enough to this terrain that he expects ceremony commensurate with his rank, and he expects to be able to pay for what he gets. The leper is an old hand: the most he dares expect is the society of other lepers. But both of them, propelled out of themselves by deep need and the presence of the Holy, break the rules: Naaman sets aside his dignity and the leper steps out of the shadows. Each receives healing, and each, like the psalmist, receives and confesses God.

In so doing, each becomes the winner that Paul describes. For winning is not receiving salvation and hoarding it: winning, Paul tells us, is doing what it takes to be the means through which the salvation of God comes into this needy, needy world.

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