2 KINGS 2:1-2, 6-14
Rev. Rosemarie C. Smurzynski
Virtual Monastery Archive
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.
Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." 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 kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
2 Kings 2:1-2; 6-14 offers the preacher many themes. One could speak about resurrection, Elijah’s and Jesus’, or the passing on the mantle of one prophet to another, Elijah to Elisha, or miracles, the parting of the waters in order to cross a river on dry ground. I chose instead to enter another theme: Verse 9. “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elijah makes this request of Elisha who is soon to follow him as the nation’s next foremost prophet.
This passage reminds me of my relationship with my grandmother who died forty years ago. Many days I remember how she taught me so much like: how to roll out pasta, the old way, by hand; or how to apply good common sense to our behavior: never let the sun set on your anger or hurt. One thing she never gave to me was the keys to our family history. I never heard about my ancestors from her. And I never saw her certificates, birth, marriage or death. I did my own sleuthing for these. She never asked me Elijah’s question: Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you. I never was her Elisha, begging her to pass on her spirit words to me.
Twice when Elisha wanted to walk with Elijah further and further toward Elijah’s final appointment with God, Elijah refused him. “Stay here” he said. But Elisha followed, insisting: “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” The two reach the Jordan and Elijah performs a miracle. Just like Moses Elijah parts the waters for dry passage across. At the far side bank, it is then that Elijah inquires of Elisha: Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you. And Elisha wants what we might want from those who have gone before us: something of their spirit to live on in us.
“Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit . Elisha says. Elijah could have simply responded: “No” or “Yes” to the request. Either is a cheap response akin to Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace.” Elijah instead complicates the quest. He tells Elisha: You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.
I like Elijah’s response. Spirit energy is not given without effort. It is not going to be that easy for Elisha to inherit prophet hood. What is required of Elisha is this: paying attention, deeply seeing and deeply listening for the taking up of Elijah to heaven. One who notices such a thing is then ready for next steps.
Meanwhile, I hold Elijah’s words close. What more powerful gesture than to ask— tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you? What more potent answer to Elisha’s request than Elijah’s direction on how and why spirit moves from one person to another.
Though life with grandma was full of listening to things said and not said, I yearn from her an Elijah/Elisha exchanges. But then again maybe we had it, and maybe that is why this prophetic exchange takes hold of me. Explicit or implicit, I’d like to carry its insight with me for the rest of my days. Amen
1. What thoughts come for you if you were to hear someone say: “Tell me what I may do for you…”? And why!
2. What would change if they added the second part of Elijah’s sentence: “… before I am taken from you.”? And why!
3. What do you need to hear from your family, mentors, and teachers and what do you need to say to them?
4. How might this passage, lived, with you making Elijah’s offer to another add gravitas to your life’s actions and interactions?
Prayer: Psalm 30: 11-12
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
May all our words be ones of praise for God, for this great earth and the people in it, and for those opportunities when our talents meet the world’s needs.