God has called Elijah to the sacred mountain of Sinai (also called Horeb); it is on this mountain that there is fierce wind, an earthquake and fire, but God is in the silence that follows, and it is there that God tells him to pass on the mantle of his job to Elisha. When Elijah does this, as we have in our reading (1 Kings 19:19-21), Elisha ceremoniously leaves his life as a successful farmer, and after a meal with his friends and relatives, obedient to God’s call, sets off to start his new life following Elijah – at least to begin with then becoming a prophet in his own right..
In the second reading we hear Paul continuing to instruct the Galatians; the chapter is introduced with the words “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” But the main message (Galatians 5:13-18) is not easy for us to grasp because of the significance of his use of the word ‘flesh.’ ‘Flesh’ is sometimes just a way of saying ‘human’ rather than divine as in the well-know phrase “the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us” (John 1:14) which just means the Son of God became human – one of us. But sometimes the word ‘flesh’ is used to imply a human way of living that is in opposition to what God wants and is not even helpful to our fellow human beings; this is not dissimilar from what was sometimes called ‘original sin,’ namely, the situation in which we live that falls well short of what it could and should be. In contrast to this flesh is the spirit; ‘spirit’ can mean the uplifting and contagious spirit that we have as humans for the good of ourselves and others, but also, for Christians, it can refer to the Spirit of God that is in us enabling and encouraging us to live as true followers of Christ, showing love of others to the bitter end. The passage makes sense when we understand something of this.
In the gospel passage, Luke’s theme that Jesus’ public life is a journey surfaces, and this is a key moment in His journey; it is not a geographical one, but a spiritual one; from now on Jesus realises that it is through pain, suffering and apparent failure that He will fulfill the will of the Father for Him. There are clear echoes here of the account of Elijah’s decline from power, of the moment of Elisha’s call to follow him and of Elijah’s being ‘taken up’ at the end of his life. Jesus is a Prophet and more, is a leader like Moses – but more – but they share in and illuminate His life for us. In the reading (Luke 9:51-62) we have a message for us if we are to be true followers of Jesus.