Lesson: 2 Kings 2:1-12
1 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 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. 3 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.”
4 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. 5 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.”
6 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. 7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8 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.
9 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.” 10 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.” 11 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. 12 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.
The Book of Kings is part of the “Deuteronomic History” that includes the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. These books are a didactic history of Ancient Israel from the time in the Wilderness (c. 1250 BCE, if the account is historical) to the Babylonian Captivity in 587 BCE. They emphasize that God controls history, and when the people (and their kings) worship Yahweh properly, good things happen to them. When the kings and people worship false gods, however, bad events overtake them.
Today’s story recounts the succession of the prophet Elijah by his faithful disciple, Elisha, who asks for a “double share” (the share of an oldest son) of Elijah’s spirit (v.9). According to Biblical chronology, the events took place about 840 BCE, after the reigns of Ahab and the two kings who followed him.
The account has many parallels to the stories of Moses and his successor, Joshua. Elijah and Elisha crossed from the west bank of the Jordan River to the east bank (v.8), just as Moses and Joshua crossed the Sea of Reeds. After Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot in the area near Mount Nebo where Moses died (v.11), Elisha parted the Jordan and crossed to the west side just as Joshua did (v.14).
Because Elijah was raised to heaven, his return to earth is seen as a harbinger of the coming of the Messiah (Mal. 3:23-24). A place/chair for Elijah is left open at table (and often the doors of homes are left open) at Passover Seders in the event Elijah might return that night. In many ways, John the Baptist is portrayed as an Elijah-like figure in the Gospels.
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
3 Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Corinth, a large port city in Greece, was among the early Jesus Follower communities that Paul founded. Its culture was diverse and Hellenistic, and Corinthians emphasized reason and secular wisdom. In addition to Paul, other Jesus Followers also taught in Corinth, sometimes in ways inconsistent with Paul’s understandings of what it means to be a Jesus Follower. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in the 50’s (CE) (likely while Paul was in Ephesus) and presented his views on several issues.
Paul’s controversies with the Corinthians continued, and he wrote a number of letters to them. The Second Letter is a composite of fragments from these letters. In the Second Letter, Paul countered some Jewish Jesus Followers who were disagreeing with Paul and undermining his authority.
In today’s reading, Paul’s reference to “the god of this world” (v.4), meant the Roman authorities as well as the secular wisdom of the current age. Paul affirmed that Jesus the Christ is the “image of God” (v.4) and the “Lord” (v.5). Paul paraphrased part of the First Creation Story in Genesis regarding the creation of light and said that the light of the knowledge of God is found in Jesus the Christ (v.6).
Today’s reading comes right after Paul’s interpretation of Exodus 34, in which Moses’ face shone after talking with God and receiving the tablets of the (3:16). Similarly, the gospel is “veiled to those who are perishing” (4:3).
Gospel: Mark 9:2-9
2 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, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 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.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9 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.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is generally dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
Because the original ending of Mark’s Gospel did not include any resurrection appearances by Jesus, some scholars see the Transfiguration account in today’s reading as a resurrection appearance placed back into the lifetime of Jesus.
Moses (representing the covenant of the Torah) and Elijah (representing prophetic denunciations of corruption and idolatry) were the two greatest prophets of the Hebrew Bible. Although Moses’ death is recorded, his burial place is unknown (Deut.34:6) and Elijah was taken up to heaven in fiery chariot. Accordingly, both were seen to stand in God’s presence and to communicate God’s word.
Peter’s suggestion to make three dwellings (v.5) is reminiscent of Sukkot, the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles. Sukkot is a harvest festival and a reminder of living in tents during the Israelites’ time in the Wilderness. In First Century Israel, it was one of the three feasts each year during which Jews were expected to make a pilgrimage for a week to the Temple in Jerusalem.
The reference to the “Son of Man” is a reminder of the messianic vision in Daniel 7:13 – “I saw one like a human being [son of man] coming with the clouds of heaven.”