Elijah

In this coming 13th Sunday of Ordinary time, the gospel is taken from Luke. In yesterday’s post we pointed out that our previous encounter with the Lukan narrative was back at the end of February with the 8th Sunday. We took a brief look back at the events in the Galilean Ministry (Chapters 4:14 – 9:51) in order to provide context for our gospel. As well we introduced some key themes that we will encounter as we travel on with Jesus.

51 When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, 52 and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, 53 but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” 55 Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they journeyed to another village.

Jesus now makes the decisive turn toward Jerusalem and the accomplishment of his exodus (v. 31 – a reference to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus that will take place in Jerusalem, the city of destiny). The theme of the final journey is already in Mark (Mark 10:1, 32), but Luke has developed it to show Jesus’ commitment to the Father’s plan (9:62; 13:33). Luke keeps the reader alert to the journey theme (13:22; 17:11) and uses it to begin to assemble materials from Jesus on the nature of Christian discipleship.

Fr. Joseph Fitzmyer [827] points out that the rejection at the beginning of the travel section corresponds to the rejection at Nazareth at the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (4:16–30). The rejection at the beginning of each of these major sections of the Gospel foreshadows the rejection that lies ahead in Jerusalem. But also, there is a prelude to the coming rejection: “when the days for his being taken up were fulfilled.” Just as Elijah set out for Gilgal, so also Jesus sets his face for Jerusalem. At the beginning of the account of Elijah’s death: “Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind” (2 Kgs 2:1), the same language is used to now speak of Jesus. The Elijah motif serves both to prepare for Jesus’ death and ascension and to clarify the nature of Jesus’ mission. The term for the fulfilling of the days of Jesus’ ministry in v. 51 is repeated in Acts 2:1, and the reference to Jesus’ being taken up echoes not only Acts 1:2, “until the day when he was taken up to heaven,” but the Elijah motif. The term used in v. 51 for Jesus’ being “taken up” (analēmpsis) is also the noun form of the verb used of Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1:11, 22 (analambanō), suggesting not only Jesus’ coming death and resurrection but also the culmination of the story in Jesus’ ascension.

Why the Elijah motif? Isn’t this something we associate with John the Baptist? Malachi 3:1 declares that the Lord will send a messenger to prepare the way (see also Elijah in Mal 4:5). Immediately in this scene when we are told that Jesus sent messengers to prepare his way (v. 52). The first reference to Samaria occurs in this scene (cf. 10:33; 17:11, 16), but it foreshadows Philip’s work in Samaria in Acts, which results in Peter and John laying hands on the Samaritans. These incorporate other than the Elijah-as-herald motif, and rather point to Jesus’ death in his being “taken up.”

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (I–IX), Anchor Bible 28 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981) 827.

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