Commentary on 1 Kgs 19:19-21
We take up immediately from yesterday’s reading. The short passage is actually borrowed from the Elisha cycle or tradition. Elijah has basically finished the work God had given him to do and is getting ready to hand on to his successor, Elisha.
Coming from the mountain where he had met the Lord (yesterday’s reading about the gentle breeze), he comes upon Elisha ploughing behind twelve oxen yoked to ploughs. Elisha himself was following the last one. It seems the other eleven were being driven by Elisha’s servants.
That number of animals and assistants indicated that Elisha was a farmer of some means, perhaps even rich by the standards of his time and place. (He would disparagingly have been referred to in the China of Mao’s days as a “rich peasant”. Ironically, Mao’s own family were well-off peasants.)
As Elijah passed by he threw his cloak over the shoulders of Elisha. The meaning was clear. He was passing over to Elisha the prophetic vocation which had been his. The cloak represented both the person and his authority. And, in Elijah’s case, the cloak had miraculous powers which were also being passed on. Elisha immediately accepted the call and ran after Elijah. He just made one petition, namely, to go back and say a final farewell to his parents. Elijah granted his request.
Elisha went off but, at the same time, he slaughtered his pair of oxen; used the wood of his plough as fuel to roast the meat; then shared the meat with his servants. The meaning was very clear. He was burning his boats and committing himself totally and unreservedly to his calling as God’s prophet and spokesman. Elisha’s break with his past vocation was complete. He then went off and followed Elijah as his attendant. ‘Attendant’ is the same word in Hebrew to describe Joshua’s relationship with Moses.
The story is one of a calling being passed on and being generously accepted.
Elisha’s request to go back and say goodbye to his family (whom he probably never saw again) and a relatively prosperous way of life reminds us of the man who wanted to say goodbye to his family before becoming a disciple of Jesus (cf. Luke 10:59). Jesus said that, for a disciple of his, even that should be set aside. As Peter would say: “We have left all things and followed you” (Mark 10:28). And indeed they had.
But Elisha did show the level of his commitment by disposing of all his property and following the Lord and his teacher, Elijah, with only the clothes on his back.
We might ask what do we still cling to in our following of Jesus? What things would we find it most difficult to let go of if we were asked? What is the level of our commitment to following Jesus right now?