1 Kings 19:19-21
Psalm 16:1b-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10
God gave Elijah three tasks: he was to anoint Hazael to be king over Syria, to anoint Jehu to be king over the northern kingdom of Israel, and to appoint Elisha to be prophet in his place. In today’s first reading, Elijah carries out the third task, manifesting his prompt obedience to God’s word.
The appointing of Elisha looks forward to an episode in the New Testament, when Jesus calls a man to follow him. Elisha says to Elijah: “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you”. And Elijah allows him to do so. In the Gospel of Matthew, one of the disciples says to Jesus: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father”. But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:21-22). The Gospel of Luke reads: “To another he said, ‘Follow me’. But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father”. But Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-60).
Since, children were responsible for mourning and burying their parents and other relatives (Tobit 1:16-20; 4:3; 6:15), it could seem like Jesus violates the Fourth Commandment to honor one’s parents. This, however, is not the case, for two reasons. First, Jesus is calling men and women to a new family, the family of God. The new family is formed by adherence to Jesus himself, to his Law; communion with Jesus is filial communion with the Father – it is a yes to the fourth commandment on a new level. It is entry into the family of those who call God Father, of those who are united with Jesus and, “by listening to him, united with the will of the Father, thereby attaining to the heart of the obedience intended by the Torah” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth vol. I, 115-117).
Second, Jesus is the new Moses and brings the old law to perfection. Jesus’ authority to interpret the law in a new way rests on his divine sonship. He has divine authority and transfers the ten commandments into the context of God’s universal family. He brings the God of Israel to all nations. He is the “new Moses”, the prophet-like-Moses that God raised up (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth vol. I, 122; Deuteronomy 18:15).
Jesus, then, can do what Elijah cannot: there is something greater than Elijah here. We also get the sense of the urgency and radicality of Jesus’ call. His hour is approaching; the time of the Kingdom is here.
In today’s Gospel, we see how Jesus brings the law to fulfillment. Not making false oaths is the bare minimum. Jesus, however, invites his followers to not swear an oath at all, to not place themselves unnecessarily in a position of divine judgment. In everything they say and do, Jesus’ followers are to be truthful.
When Jesus calls us to follow him, he is inviting us to say with the Psalmist: “You, O Lord, are my portion and cup; you, O Lord, are my inheritance”. This inheritance makes us sons and daughters of God who share in eternal life. Our souls are not abandoned to the netherworld for we will rise to life with the Son.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].