2 Kgs 2:1,6-14; Ps 31:20,21,24; Mt 6:1-6,16-18
“You hide them in the shelter of your presence”
The LORD hides us in the shelter of his presence. The LORD screens us within his abode. In his great goodness the LORD protects us from the plotting of men and from the strife of tongues. With all who hear the word of God’s comfort in Psalm 31, we pray for all that the LORD has in store for us, for all who fear him. To fear the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and the crown of wisdom. To fear the LORD has nothing to do with being afraid of God. We are rightly afraid of the consequences of our sin, but we are never justified in being afraid of God, as if He was a harsh judge who loved to see sinners squirm. Indeed, this is not God, and if it was who would follow him or love him or imitate him? The one we follow, love, or imitate is the one we become. That is why idolatry is so abhorrent to the LORD, because we become less than we could be in our idolatry. Because we limit our perfection by idolatry we are never happy, never at peace. Only the presence of the LORD, only the love of the Almighty, keeps us constant. That same holy presence requites those who act proudly. Elijah is filled with the comfort and challenge of the Living God, and that’s why he is so loved and hated. The Lord Jesus demands that we hide ourselves in God so that our true nature may reveal the Father’s love for all of us. This is why we worship here; this is why we worship the true and living God so that we might become more and more like him. So that we might more and more become what we eat in the Eucharist, the very body and blood of Christ, ready to be poured out and broken open at any time, on any day.
The life of the prophet proclaims the faithfulness of the LORD to his people. In every deed and every proclamation, the LORD reveals his will and wisdom through the prophets. Elijah and Elisha re-present the entire People of God so they must cross the sea dry shod. This mighty deed of saving love in the history of Israel is made personal and present in the lives of his holy ones, the prophets. The secret of Elijah’s passing on was known to his replacement and to the entire guild of prophets. They kept a distance, perhaps, out of awe and wonder for the Prophet and his relationship with the LORD God Almighty. Elisha, however, keeps close to his father. He asks his father for nothing less than a double portion of his spirit. Being close to power and even having power is not something that frightens Elisha. He has come to know the LORD so tenderly from his father, Elijah, that he stays close enough to see the flaming chariot and horses. He cries out much like Saint Peter on the mount of transfiguration. Not with the same words, but with the same anxious excitement, “My father! My father! Israel’s chariots and drivers!” After he tore his garment in two, perhaps out of respect and in sorrow, Elisha takes up the mantle the prophet once threw on him to claim him for God. Now, Elisha wields the mantle and strikes the water asking, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” The LORD responds to his honest question by a might sign. He split the water and crossed over by himself just has he had done before with his mentor. Now he was without his father Elijah, and now the LORD himself had become his father. Such is the great joy of all who bring sons into this world. Especially sons who have a double portion of their father’s power and who know the LORD God to be true father.
The Lord Jesus teaches his disciples that true intimacy with the Father takes place only in that hidden place of the heart. He warns us not to make our relationship with God the source of our pride and a public display for the honor and respect of those around us. This kind of hypocrisy is the death of true spirituality. Just as the crowd of guild prophets did not gaze on the parting of Elijah so we are not to act in public to gain the respect of our audience. Our true prayer and sacrifice takes place inside where it cannot be seen by others. If we are showy about our spirituality, or if we act generously only to attract attention then we have already received our reward, the shallow and empty admiration of the crowd. Such a public show cannot satisfy our deepest need for love. Only God and his love found in the secret place of our heart can satisfy our deepest desire for intimacy. Indeed, the only reason to explain our generosity or courage is to give witness to the hope that sustains us. If we are asked then and only then do we give a gentle and respectful testimony. Such a humble witness alone can reveal the truth of God alive within us. Anything showy or ostentatious will only reveal the truth of our self-centered need for respect and recognition. In this gospel passage the Divine Teacher informs us of what Elisha learned from Elijah. The LORD God Almighty speaks in the silence of our hearts to affirm us and challenge us to become his living word of tenderness to all who yearn for love in our broken and shattered world. Indeed, becoming broken body and poured out blood will enable us to transform the church and through this transformation make all creation new!