By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from 2 Kings 6:1-23
1 Now the company of prophets said to Elisha, “As you see, the place where we live under your charge is too small for us. 2 Let us go to the Jordan, and let us collect logs there, one for each of us, and build a place there for us to live.” He answered, “Do so.” 3 Then one of them said, “Please come with your servants.” And he answered, “I will.” 4 So he went with them. When they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. 5 But as one was felling a log, his axehead fell into the water; he cried out, “Alas, master! It was borrowed.” 6 Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick, and threw it in there, and made the iron float. 7 He said, “Pick it up.” So he reached out his hand and took it.
8 Once when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, he took counsel with his officers. He said, “At such and such a place shall be my camp.” 9 But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, “Take care not to pass this place, because the Arameans are going down there.” 10 The king of Israel sent word to the place of which the man of God spoke. More than once or twice he warned such a place so that it was on the alert.
11 The mind of the king of Aram was greatly perturbed because of this; he called his officers and said to them, “Now tell me who among us sides with the king of Israel?” 12 Then one of his officers said, “No one, my lord king. It is Elisha, the prophet in Israel, who tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.” 13 He said, “Go and find where he is; I will send and seize him.” He was told, “He is in Dothan.” 14 So he sent horses and chariots there and a great army; they came by night, and surrounded the city.
15 When an attendant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. His servant said, “Alas, master! What shall we do?” 16 He replied, “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed: “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 When the Arameans came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, “Strike this people, please, with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked. 19 Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city; follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria.
20 As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men so that they may see.” The Lord opened their eyes, and they saw that they were inside Samaria. 21 When the king of Israel saw them he said to Elisha, “Father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” 22 He answered, “No! Did you capture with your sword and your bow those whom you want to kill? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink; and let them go to their master.” 23 So he prepared for them a great feast; after they ate and drank, he sent them on their way, and they went to their master. And the Arameans no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.
The stereotype of the Old Testament as an endless litany of warmongering campaigns is pervasive, yet it fails to take seriously the depth and diversity of the text itself. Here we have the Lord of Hosts — quite literally, as Elisha’s servant discovers — opting to disarm an entire army without bloodshed. As the soldiers descend on Dothan, the Lord blinds the entire contingent, and Elisha leads them harmlessly to capture.
Imagine yourself in the monarch’s sandals. Here’s your sworn enemy’s army, regularly undertaking raiding parties against your people, and you could decimate their military with an order. Yet Elisha chooses a different path, the one St. Paul calls the way of “heaping burning coals on their heads” through acts of grace. They are simply given good food and drink, and sent home. “So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.”
I often wonder how many of the conflicts I experience — personal, interpersonal, national, global — could have been avoided altogether if I or we had taken the risk of love and responded graciously. It feels so essential to maintain a defensive stance, to protect our identity or our family or our financial security from all threats. Yet it could be that the most effective strategy is also the one that leaves us the most exposed. Can we trust God that his grace is worth that risk? Seeing our enemies transformed by a decision to risk loving them, not tearing them down when we have the opportunity, might very well be God’s sanctification in our lives, and redemption in theirs.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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