Tag Archives: transfiguration

with the Word online Bible study: passing the mantle

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2 Kings 2:1-15

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. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know; keep silent.’

Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I know; be silent.’

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.

When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’ They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

What did you hear in this story? Try reading it out loud as if it’s an adventure story, or as if you’re narrating a movie. What do you hear, see, smell, feel?

What do you think this story is about?

Do you identify with a particular character? More with the leader finishing his work and passing the mantle, or with the apprentice picking up that mantle, or with the bystanders?

Elijah is one of two people in the Old Testament who are “taken up” rather than dying. This story is the basis of the Jewish tradition of leaving a place at the table for Elijah–because he was taken up, that also means he could return, and so as a practice of hospitality and of expectant waiting for God’s work, Jews leave a place set at the table at major festivals (and some do so at every meal), so they will be prepared. There has long been the idea that Elijah will return to prepare the way for the Messiah–which is why John the Baptizer is often equated with Elijah.

Knowing all of that, how does that change your understanding of the relationship between Elijah and Elisha and John the Baptizer, Jesus, and the disciples?

What do you think is the good news in this story?

What is the challenge to us for taking up the mantle in our community?

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with the Word online Bible study: Transfigured

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Mark 9.2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Usually there are two reactions to this story: either “WHAT??? that is the weirdest story ever?!?!?!?” or “ooh, cool…” Occasionally you might meet someone who can talk coherently about how this story is a wonderful personal revelation of God’s glory in Jesus, and how it feeds their spiritual life, filling them with reflected light.

But the disciples appear to be more in the first camp…they have no idea what is going on, they’re terrified, and they say ridiculous things, trying to keep the moment static forever (or at least until they can figure it out).

First, a quick history lesson.

Moses was (is) the greatest prophet of the Hebrew people, leading them out of slavery and to the promised land, reflecting the glory of God (literally–when Moses went up Mt. Sinai to talk to God, he came down with a face that shined so brightly he had to cover it up so as not to freak people out), bringing the law, doing amazing signs and wonders, etc. He is the archetype of a faithful person, the representative of the law. One of Moses’ main locations for conferencing with God was on Mount Sinai.

Elijah was also a great prophet, who did amazing things bringing the people back from the idolatrous ways to the worship of the one true God. He healed people, performed miracles, and was a major conduit for the word and spirit of God. He spoke to God, had a number of learning opportunities, and defeated the false prophets–all on mountains (Mt. Sinai and Mt. Carmel, in particular). Elijah, according to the story, did not die but was taken up into heaven by God’s fiery chariots, and will come again to prepare the way for the Messiah.

So, many scholars will point out that for Jesus to be standing on a mountain (sound familiar?), conferring with the two greatest of the greats of Israel, tells us that he’s an important dude. For Jesus to be transfigured so that his glory shines through, while talking to these two characters, suggests that he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. And then the voice–echoing the voice of his baptism, re-marking him as the beloved, worthy of listening and following. In many ways, this is a story that shows us Jesus’s authority and divinity. He’s the real-deal, shiny and new yet backed by the old and trusted.

So what does this story have to do with our lives of faith? What is the good news for our time and place? What is the challenge for us?

How does this story affect your relationship with God? What do you think happened here, and how does it help you to follow Jesus?