Why is it so?
There are two reasons. The first is that the context of these encounters is rarely explained to us. The second is that none of us like admitting that God has an absolute right to do with us what He wills, because He is our creator and redeemer.
So what’s the context with Elisha?
Prior to this encounter with Elijah, the prophets of Baal have been slaughtered and Queen Jezebel being hopping mad wants Elijah dead a.s.a.p. Elijah having nothing left in the tank tells God that he wants to die. Then the angel of the Lord wakes Elijah up and gives him the nourishment necessary to travel to Horeb, the mountain of God. Here God reveals that Elijah is not alone, others have not bent to Jezebel’s ways, and that God has three strategic tasks for him to do: to anoint two new kings, and to anoint Elisha to continue Elijah’s prophetic ministry.
There are then at least three reasons for urgency:
Jezebel’s henchmen are on the lookout to kill Elijah.
Elijah needs to find and anoint the two new kings before the henchmen catch up to him.
Elijah doesn’t know how much time he has left, and he needs to pass on to Elisha as much training and instruction as possible before that finale comes.
So what’s the context with Jesus?
This is the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus has a lot of time in ministry around Galilee until the time of the Transfiguration, and then Jesus sets out on the one-way journey to Jerusalem to die on the Cross for our salvation. Jesus is not going to pass by these towns again, this is their last chance to see Jesus, and to experience His ministry. The time left is counted in weeks.
On the way Jesus has encounters with 3 men.
The first is attracted to follow Jesus, and Jesus disabuses him of any romantic notions the man has by describing one of the harsh realities.
The second one has definitely been called by Jesus as a full-time disciples, but he wants to fulfil his family duty first, and Jesus doesn’t mince words saying the call on his life to preach the Gospel far outweighs any family obligation.
The third one is also attracted to following Jesus, but wants to say goodbye to his parents first, and Jesus quotes Elijah’s words to Elisha to him. Once you say Yes, it has to be a complete and unconditional Yes.
When you look at the short amount of time of public ministry left to Jesus before Calvary, the need for urgency becomes clear. This is a one-time opportunity which will never be possible again: to walk, and talk, and live with Jesus and the disciples in the last days of public ministry. That time with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem is what will distinguish a valid witness to Jesus from anything less; and the kingdom of God being built needs as many valid witnesses as possible. There’s no time to go and do something else and catch up later.
The call to be disciple to Elijah and the call to be witness-disciple to Jesus are extraordinary privileges beyond fathoming when looked at from our vantage point in salvation history.
The call is worth the cost.
Like the parable Jesus taught us, it is the immense treasure to be had for the price of the field it is buried in.
Now we need to come to terms with why both Elijah and Jesus were so insistent on an immediate and unconditional Yes.
For this we will need an analogy or two.
A very rich and influential king is visiting a far-flung region of his kingdom and comes across a person working in the fields. For reasons of his own, the king invites the worker to come and live at the palace and to become a courtier, dining every day at the king’s table. Would such a worker dare to hum and haw about the offer? Would such a worker dare to delay in giving an affirmative answer? Would such a worker dare to delay entering the king’s service? No and no and no. Any delay and any refusal would be an affront to the king. Even if the worker has only a tiny idea of how immense this invitation is, the king is fully aware of it. Chances are the expectation would be for the worker to join the king’s retinue there and then. Anything in the worker’s life would be set at naught and thought irrelevant compared to the king’s invitation.
Replace the king with God, and Elisha and the three men with the worker, and we begin to understand.
Those of you who watched the West Wing series on TV or DVD would remember how staffers in the White House when given a presidential request would reply, “I serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States”. That is the kind of immediate readiness needed to respond to whatever the King of Kings asks of us. That’s the kind of response the holy angels always give to God Almighty, and which we are called to emulate.
Also consider a high-ranking army officer planning a surprise attack on the enemy. Every part of that strategy would be on a need-to-know basis. Each part of the attack would need precision timing. At least one part of the strategy would need a reliable and trustworthy officer to obey a seemingly weird command immediately and without question. It would be necessary for that officer to not comprehend the bigger picture, and to have no prior knowledge of the command before it arrives. Those kinds of officers tend to be a rare breed. Only a few officers would have sufficient trust in the high-ranking army officer to do that seemingly weird thing immediately and without question. Success or failure of the attack would be dependent on that officer’s prompt obedience.
Replace the high-ranking army officer with God, and the officer with any one of us, and we begin to comprehend the amount of confidence God places in us when He asks us to drop everything to immediately comply with His command. That changes everything, doesn’t it? We will then comply with great willingness.
It certainly goes against the grain of our habitual independence to realise that God has the perfect right at any time to require a big and unconditional Yes from us with next to no prior notice or preparation. But it is the truth.
Thankfully it is far more normal for an awareness of a calling from God to unfold over an expanse of time. But we do need to be reminded that some of God’s perfect plans require that we drop absolutely everything and immediately do what He asks – and that whenever that happens our immediate response is of the utmost importance to the bigger picture that only God can see in fullness.
O God, my creator and redeemer, all wise and all kindness, I acknowledge You to be the Lord of everything and the Lord of me. The thought of dropping everything and going on a completely different path scares me silly. But I will trust in You, because You have been so faithful, so generous and so provident towards all of us. I understand that should You ever ask this of me, that the stakes must be very high. I want to express my willingness in advance, because if and when that moment arrives I might not be capable of rational thought. I also want to express my confidence in Your ability to look after anything and anyone I leave behind so much better than I ever could, and my awareness that it is impossible for You to do otherwise. Help me to never delay my Yes to You. Amen.