While going from Gilgal to Bethel, Elijah says to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel” (2 Kgs. 2:2). Elisha pledges his devotion: “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” The dialogue is repeated at Jericho and the Jordan. Gilgal, the prophetic school where Elisha learns under the tutelage of Elijah, is but one of many places where prophets prophesy. Coming from Bethel and then Jericho, a prophetic chorus sings: “Do you not know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” (2 Kgs. 2;3,5).
As Elijah and Elisha approach the Jordan River, 50 prophets pursue them in silence. A cloud, rising winds, swirling dust, a chariot of fire, and horses of fire: in the confusion Elisha and Elijah lose sight of each other. Indeed, Elijah is gone. Rising to the heavens, Elijah drops his mantle, drops a double portion of power. In grief Elisha “grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces” (2 Kgs. 2:12). But through the ripped cloth a new light enters: the light of Elijah, the light of a double power, the light of the only Light there is. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God comes in, and though the story predates Christmas, this light is “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New.
For a moment Elisha stands alone, but in solitude he remains a compilation of people and places; he stands most significantly as heir to a prophetic school. Jesus was often alone, but his solitude was a recapitulation, a gathering up not only of people and places and experiences in the days of his Galilean walk, but also of human nature, what we are, what we have been, even what we have yet to experience. Alone, he has the whole world in his hand. “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 there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus” (Mark 9:2-4). Prophecy + law = Truth. And the greatest of these is Truth. “Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus” (Mark 9:8). Only Jesus!
Do we know that only is also everything? “When I am lifted up, I will draw everyone [and everything] to myself” (John 12:32). Copyists have likely corrected the well-attested panta (everything) to avoid Gnostic overtones, but there it stands in credible manuscripts. For centuries it was preserved in the Vulgate: Omnia traham ad me ipsum (I will drag everything to myself). Looking at Jesus, therefore, is to see more, not less, of what is true and good and beautiful. He reveals the “innermost being of God” (Dei Verbum 4, Second Vatican Council; see also John 1:18). “In giving us his only Son, His only Word, He spoke everything to us at once in his unique Word — and he has no more to say” (John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, cap. 22). Leading us into all truth, the Father is always saying what he has said: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
In doubt? Listen to Mavis Staples sing “That’s Enough” with Billy Preston on organ. Her aging voice tells it, grinds out in pain the truth we too often are too timid to say. “I’ve got Jesus, and that’s enough” (I Believe to My Soul, Rhino Records, 2005).
Look It Up
Read Ps. 50. All excellent greatness = Jesus!
Think About It
Only never runs dry.