MYSTICAL PRAYER: not cat and mouse but an Opening to God

Opening to God in Prayer

Opening to God in Prayer

Cat and Mouse With God?
Luke 11:1-13
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

If you need something, anything,
really badly, just ask for it,
and don’t be afraid of the answer.
Don’t play tricks, don’t test the water,
don’t whine, or play the co-dependent game
of getting God to need to help you,
or the passive aggressive game of tricking God into giving it up,
like dropping tricky, sneaky, hints.
No, Jesus says just ask for it.
Stand up and be responsible for your desires.
Be accountable for what you desire,
do not play games with your need,
and do not play games with God.
Jesus says: Here’s what I’m saying: Ask and you’ll get;
Seek and you’ll find; Knock and the door will open.
Does it get any more clear than that?
AND, how many of us have actually
played cat and mouse with God?
Oh God, just get me out of this scrape (whatever it might be)
and I’ll— start going to church, quit smoking,
quit drinking, yelling at my kids —whatever,
but you do know what I’m writing about.
Like Francis and his bishop,
just stand naked before God and ask.
No games, no tricks from you,
no games, no tricks from God.
That isn’t to say that God will actually just hand it over to you,
or that you now have a better chance at winning Power Ball,
it just means that you’re a step closer
toward being honest with God and yourself.
And that is where true prayer begins.

# # #

Many of us humans have the idea that we need to bribe God in order to get what we want. It is a primitive idea, after all. Grain offerings, sacrifice of animals, sacrifice of each other, money, time: all these are used as ways of attempting to bribe God. We say that it is just about a show of our gratefulness to God for all God has done, we say that, but is it really? And is Jesus saying in this text that we no longer need to give offerings to bribe God?

I think he is saying in this passage that we are just to ask of God for what we need without any strings attached and give to God with no strings attached. I believe Jesus is speaking very plainly—we have no bargaining power with God. Recall that he is discussing the act of prayer. All we can expect from God is an out-pouring of Grace, and I believe that it is asking for this Grace that is at the heart of the prayer Jesus is teaching us.

For me at the heart of this prayer taught to us by Jesus, is the recognition of a need for Grace on the part of the one praying. I have been writing about Mystical prayer, and this prayer, I think, is at the heart of what Christian Mysticism, and Mysticism in general, is about—Grace. For it truly appears that this prayer prayed in a nutshell would be something like this: Holy and Divine Being, help me and fill my life and those around me with your Grace. Amen! Not a bad prayer all in all.

This Lord’s Prayer/Our Father/Prayer-that-Jesus-taught-us is a request for a Grace-filled life. It is not a wheedling or manipulating of God into giving us what we want, but a request from our heart of hearts to the Heart of all hearts for the basic human need for what we need most—food, forgiveness, peace, the Holy Spirit, Grace.

No tricky prayers here. In this prayer we learn the art of true prayer. If we pay attention to the instructions that go with this prayer, we can see reflected Jesus’ understanding of the human tendency to play games with ourselves, each other, and with God. Regardless of what translation you choose to read, Jesus is setting out good, healthy rules of communication—whether with other humans or with God. The path to mysticism leads not only to the heart of the Divine, but to a healthy awareness of self.

Now, with all this said, I propose a way to begin the deep prayer of Mysticism. Ask God to open you to God. Give God permission to work in you. It is not actually necessary to ask God, except that we are able to hear ourselves asking. We need to hear the prayers that God hears. We need to, because by our hearing we give ourselves permission to open up to God. Praying is really about us anyway.

We need to do the changing and opening and focusing and turning, moving, healing and becoming. It is we who changes into the holy creature remade into God’s sacred image. It is we who open our hearts to the Heart of all hearts. It is we who must focus on our goal of right relationship with One whom we seek. It is we who must turn our human love of self into our heart’s desire for deep communion with the ultimate lover of our soul. It is we who will move into the depths of God’s being. It is we who are seeking healing of soul and spirit. It is not god who does this work. And it is we who become the wholeness of the wonder that is this Divine Being. This is true prayer, it is not a cat and mouse game, and when it is realized it is pure grace

# # #

Luke 11:1-13 — The Message
One day he was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Master, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” So Jesus said, “When you pray, say, Father, Reveal who you are. Set the world right. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.” Then he said, “Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don’t have a thing on hand.’ “The friend answers from his bed, ‘Don’t bother me. The door’s locked; my children are all down for the night; I can’t get up to give you anything.’ “But let me tell you, even if he won’t get up because he’s a friend, if you stand your ground, knocking and waking all the neighbors, he’ll finally get up and get you whatever you need. “Here’s what I’m saying: Ask and you’ll get; Seek and you’ll find; Knock and the door will open. Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?”

Mary, Martha and the Mystical Journey?

Excavating the Recesses of Spirit

Excavating the Recesses of Spirit

Too Much Work
Luke 10:38-42
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

In reading this, I cannot believe that
Jesus actually said it, at least like this—think about it,
cannot you hear Jesus’ authentic voice speaking about
how both serving and sitting are acts of worship,
and are acts that Mary and Martha should balance and share
because the better part
is really the working together in community
toward the building of the kingdom?
This was written 60-90 years after Jesus lived,
and this text is to me more the thinking of a
new community defining itself.
These are less the words of Jesus,
the builder of the kingdom,
and more those of a community of religiosity and prayer.
So what do I think Jesus was actually saying
that got lost in the church’s translation?
Make your choice and live with it,
and then if it is not the right choice,
complete your commitment and then
try to make the right choice next time,
but no whining,
Do we consciously
or unconsciously use our praying
as a means of withdrawing from life—
ours and the lives around us?
Sometimes our obsessive compulsiveness
is the very thing needed to get the job done.
Sometimes it is the mother of all dysfunctions.
Do we choose work and then think of ourselves
as trapped in it with no way out?
Many times our choices appear as jaws of a steel trap.
If we find our activity of choice to be an implacable
tyrannical giant, we, having made that choice
can also un-make it, because everything about Jesus
is about our liberation.

# # #

Be very careful how you choose to pray. Will it be with your actions to the neglect of a deep inner life founded upon hours of deep prayer and meditation spent at the feet of Jesus? Will it be long hours of tiring service to others in the name of Jesus? Or could it be a combination of the two? Can what we do balance so as to avoid burn out?

We tend to spend a lot of time getting into traps of our own making. Living a mystical life is not about getting into traps, but about getting out of them. The goal of all prayer should be freedom and wholeness of person. We go off to a quiet place where we can be touched by the Divine Being, and in that place we are changed and made stronger for the work to be done. We are to strive to balance our inner person with our outer relationships. Our commission is to balance our praying with our acting.

We do not have the option of using one as an excuse for not doing the other. In the story, Martha is working too hard, and Mary is worshiping too hard. What each is doing is needed, but their choices are hurting their relationship with each other and with Jesus. I mean, really? It would seem to me that both parts are essential. If Martha had not chosen to work, later on when everyone discovered they were hungry, it seems that Mary would have had something to say. So who did have the better part?

I think that in this story we learn the balance between spirit and matter. Both need the other. In spite of what some may claim, our spirits will not flourish if our bodies are not cared for. Hunger, pain, suffering are difficult obstructions to a healthy spirit.

There is a wrong-headed belief within certain aspects of Christianity that holds that the bodily aspects of Christ were mere apparitions and therefore not real, and that because of that He did not feel any of the pain of his execution. This is called, Docetism, and it was one of the earliest battles fought by our early church leaders. Docetism basically devalues human suffering and claims that one’s body is so distinct from one’s spirit that it is actually an illusion and therefore so is our suffering, that there actually is no body at all and what we see and think of as a body is actually a phantom that is a weak echo of our spirit. Docetism steals the humanity from our humanness.

If Jesus was saying that Mary’s spiritual journey was what was real, and Martha’s physical labor was irrelevant, then Jesus, is this text was supporting the idea of docetism, but I do not think that is what is going on here. I think that this is the community formed by Jesus remembering a point Jesus had made. And, as the story was passed down through several generations, between the act and the writing down of the act an unintentional shift in emphasis occurred. Remember that Luke was writing this almost sixty to ninety years after Jesus died. This is more than three generations after the fact. A long time for communal memory to hold a thought without wavering.

I believe by the time this story was written down the church had begun to form and move into much of what it was to become—a church of diverse thinking and a church of many theologies—some good, some bad. Rather than the either/or choice this story implies, at its heart is the notion of balance.

Living a balanced mysticism might seem difficult, but it does not need to be so. As with Mary and Martha, we begin by making a choice. My suggestion is that we choose in the favor of a prayer-life balanced with some form of service-oriented action. The ideal path is actually both Mary and Martha acting in concert to do the work and experience the person of Jesus—both finding a way to do both.

Jesus lived in an active, sometimes chaotic world. This story only lets us see into a small part of his life. To understand anything he says, we need to take in within the full context of the four Gospels. He continually went into quietude and prayed, but that praying lead him out into his community to do his work of preaching, healing, forgiving, teaching, being among the people of his time. Our praying should lead us out into our own worlds.

We, like Jesus, live in an active, sometimes chaotic, world. We long for peace and for something deeper and more than what we seem to have. We know about God. We believe in God. But somehow many times we feel as if we are left holding the bag so to speak, doing all the work and not getting any relief from it. Most of the time we are vaguely aware that there might be another way, but we are neither sure what it might be, nor how to access it. This is where mystical prayer comes into play.

Mystical prayer is done in solitude, but for it to have meaning, it must move out of the seclusion and into community. Mysticism begins with the knowledge that there is more to life than we so far have experienced. Mystical prayer leads us into a deep and meaningful inner life and acknowledges the reality of our living. In mystical prayer we discover solace within the quiet solitude of our innermost spirit, while always moving into action based upon the revelations that come to us in our solitude.

# #

Luke 10:38-42 — The Voice

Jesus continued from there toward Jerusalem and came to another village. Martha, a resident of that village, welcomed Jesus into her home. Her sister, Mary, went and sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach. Meanwhile Martha was anxious about all the hospitality arrangements.

Martha (interrupting Jesus): Lord, why don’t You care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to get over here and help me.

Jesus: Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her.




Do the Same
Luke 10:25-37
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Defining the term, neighbor.
Not just our pals
or those who are like us,
but ones we have never met,
people who do not live down the road from us,
someone with whom we would not
normally share our lives,
someone we have been brought up
to distrust—someone not of our
culture, class, race, nationality…
The example Jesus used
was extreme.
The Levite was a true and unbending believer
who was indoctrinated to believe
Samaritans were creatures of a lesser everything
and not to be trusted or associated with.
Yet… Yet…
It was the Samaritan
who saw beyond his cultural and religious training
and viewed the extremes of human need,
and the commonality of pain
with compassion.
We must not, do not dare allow our
religion to get in the way of compassion—
“Go and do the same…,” said Jesus


Jesus is equating the act of being a neighbor with being in a good relationship with the Divine Being. It seems that for Jesus to love God is to act outside of ourselves. Prayer and spirituality are inextricably linked to one’s actions. If we want to call ourselves people of faith, we need to link our inner prayer and spiritual activities to our outer actions within our communities and beyond.  When I think of things such as Mysticism, I think that if the work done is only about the one praying and seeking then It is mostly a dead end.

How much of our life is spent worrying about what we should do or not do about something? In the depth of our souls is a longing to be right, to do the right thing, to live in a way that we can be proud. In the depth of our souls dwells the God of love, compassion, and grace. It seems to me that in the book of James we find the template for living rightly. In James 2:18 in the Message we read, You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.

Understanding this as the Mystical way goes a long way toward understanding what Jesus was about in the Luke reading and helps us to find deeper meanings within our own selves. The Levite had faith, the Samaritan had works. Reading James and hearing Jesus we are left to assume that it was the Samaritan who actually had faith.

We are all on a spiritual journey. We seek to become more and more deeply attuned to the divine person. In the above text Jesus is telling us that we are to get this closer relationship with the divine through both prayer and action. The Greek word is Praxis. Wikipedia tell us that … Praxis is something that goes beyond practices, actions, or behaviors. Praxis is described as a combination of reflection and action that realizes the historicity of human persons. In this sense actions are realized in light of the way they affect history. History has to be seen as a whole, combining in an incarnational way, our salvation history and our “human” history.  A mystical way is a way of both faith and works.

That translates for the purpose of this reflection as a back and forth, or cyclical, motion of reflection and action, reflection and action. We pray, meditate, contemplate on the nature of the divine being and our interaction with that being. Then, we are led to action. We take that action and then we go back into meditation/reflection on the divine being until once again we take action.

This is praxis, and the meditation-action technique is not a reserved technique. All it requires is the willingness to engage in action after your meditation on the divine. There is no particular action that must be undergone except that the action should be somehow related to the meditation.  The notion that action follows meditation grounds a Mystical journey.

Our meditation should be intentional. When we meditate we actively seek a Presence deep within our heart of hearts, our soul. When we take action, our actions will in certain ways be based upon our connection to the presence we have sought and found. If we engage deeply with the Spirit of God, our actions will reflect that engagement and will become more and more in tune with the grace we have sought in our meditation.

A praxis-based mystical practice would look something like this: We pray, deeply, and out of that prayer, our actions change. We then meditate/reflect again, and this time we include our actions within the framework of our search for the one we know as divine. As we continue to pray/meditate/reflect on the Divine Being, over time we can begin to understand a coming together of our seeking a divine relationship and our actions. Our actions begin to come more into alignment with the One Whom we seek in our prayer.

The practice of meditative prayer is good. Seeking God at the deepest level possible, in the most secret recesses of our souls is something to work at and to achieve. Yet without the fruits of the connection made there being carried out and into our personal and communal connections, there may be not much more beyond a narcissistic kind of achievement. It seems that our neighbors are those we have been culturally trained to avoid or shun, AS WELL AS those with whom we live.  Mystical praxis opens the spiritual doors to wholeness.


Luke 10:25-37 — The Message

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?” He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.” Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man. “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” the religion scholar responded. “The one who treated him kindly,” Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”




The Prejudice of Ego
2 Kings 2:6-14
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

I was raised a Fundamentalist.
Catholics, Gays, Communists, Liberal Protestants,
most Conservative Protestants,
any one of Color, drunkards and drug addicts
were all in the same group,
They could be saved, maybe, but surely not healed enough
to be allowed under the same roof
that housed our congregation.
I was healed of this kind of thinking,
and I became a member of that outcast group
for which I am eternally grateful.
I have seen God heal many people in my life as a Christian.
I have seen dying children healed,
broken lives put back together,
Protestants healed to become Catholics
and Catholics healed to become Protestants,
I have witnessed ego-inflated closed minds
opened as was mine.
There are minds closed by choice
and minds closed by upbringing and culture,
and yes, I have witnessed true healing,
but a mind that is closed by a heart hardened by ego,
I am not sure I have ever seen one of those healed.
Naaman was clearly prejudiced, ego-inflated
and wanted nothing to do with any healing
that tweaked his ego
and came from an inferior race like the Hebrews.
And yet he listened to his slave,
and he wanted to be healed desperately enough
to go against his own prejudice
and the mightiness of his station and class
and allow the healing to happen…
And how much of our own healing
do our ego and prejudice inhibit?

# # #

We all have our own muddy-watered River Jordan into which we must immerse ourselves if we want to receive God’s healing.

Many times we want more from God than God wants of us. Or is that the other way around? We like the flair of the fancy. We want to be special. We want God not to just lift us up, but WAY up. We say we don’t but we really do. AND we want to be healed in the way we expect to be healed. BATHE ME IN THE ELIXIRS OF HEAVEN, NOT IN THE MUDDY WATER OF THE JORDAN! So here is Naaman, expecting treatment equal to the station to which he was accustomed, and not only did the prophet not deign to come out in person, but had his servant tell him to go clean up in the River Jordan. Go take a bath, Naaman!

But before you laugh at Naaman, consider this. Don’t we all like to be treated to a “spa day,” a really good massage, a doctor that really understands us, someone who gets what we are about, medical care that treats us like the persons we are? We do not like being numbers. We hate being pawned off on subordinates. Who wants a medical practitioner when a “Real” doctor might be available? We like to be spoiled, pampered, stroked, and petted when we are sick, and treated as if we are the special people we would like to think we are. But while that is not always the case, we do our best to pretend it is true.

We set up phony systems that enable our sense of specialness. Country Clubs. Community Service Groups. Religious organizations such as churches and societies that separate and discriminate and judge. Hebrew and Christian Scriptures consistently have the people who need healing go to lesser folk for the healing. Or they are told that to be included they must include. If we want rights ourselves, we must offer the very rights we want (think we deserve) to those who have no rights or whom we think might be undeserving.

The truth is, though, we are all needing, deserving, receiving God’s healing, and with no grand show of anything God just gives it out. God through Elisha said, “Naaman, go take a mud bath and all will be well.” Naaman said to God, “I want scented oils and beautiful music and dancers and incense and a great big song and dance so I will know I am healed.” And God said, “Just go into the muddy water, Naaman, and get yourself healed.” Naaman did and he was.

The question for us is always, who/what is our greatest stumbling block to our healing? What keeps us from getting into the muddy water? It most probably is the idea that if we were to get healed, we would have to admit that we needed to be healed in the first place. We will admit to a problem, but no way will we admit to the problem. ESPECIALLY IF THAT PROBLEM IS YOUR OWN FAITH SYSTEM!

When I started to realize that the righteousness I truly believed was inherent in the Fundamentalism that was my faith system was truly evil, it came as a horrifying shock to me. My first reaction was that I was now surely on my way to a hell I had spent most of my life trying to avoid. My second reaction was that if the precepts of Fundamentalism were wrong, then I was left with absolutely nothing on which to stand or base my faith. Yet I had come to believe that Fundamentalism was indeed wrong. What I had to do was to re-build my faith in a way that was not wrong, but was healthy, and not a Full Gospel Faith, but rather a faith that was full of Gospel.

I went into the muddy waters of the Jordan and came up, like Naaman, healed. I will admit it was not easy, it was very scary, and I probably stayed under those waters way longer than most do, but I came up free from Fundamentalism. I no longer believe in the judgement that excludes, separates, condemns, and destroys human beings in the name of love. I now see all humanity as one in God. I understand that all spiritual paths, many of which I do not personally understand, lead to the heart of God, and God’s love. I know that hope, love, joy are the language out of which God speaks, and that God is not simply still speaking, but God’s Word and words, speak in all faith systems, and that anywhere there is a need there is God, and no human has any right whatsoever to silence God.

How does all this work out in a day to day practical way? First, we need to recognize that we are all standing knee-deep in the mud. Second, we must recognize that we are all standing on holy ground. Third, we should come to grasp that God speaks to others in ways we may not understand, and just accept the fact that we probably don’t need to understand, but we do need to accept. Fourth, and this is key, THE GOSPEL WE DISCOVER IN THE BOOK WE CALL THE BIBLE IS NOT THE ONLY WORD/S GOD HAS SPOKEN OR WILL CONTINUE TO SPEAK. Fifth, and it relates to the fourth, and now I am writing of political systems, gender preferences, sexual orientations, racial groups, religious affiliations—our way, whatever it is, is not only not the only way, but it is just one of many ways to discovering Truth and God.

So, how does God speak to you? What is the language God whispers in your ear? What is it that causes your heart to leap like a deer, and brings you up out of the muddy waters of your Jordan?

# # #

2 Kings 5:1-14 — The Message

Naaman was general of the army under the king of Aram. He was important to his master, who held him in the highest esteem because it was by him that God had given victory to Aram: a truly great man, but afflicted with a grievous skin disease. It so happened that Aram, on one of its raiding expeditions against Israel, captured a young girl who became a maid to Naaman’s wife. One day she said to her mistress, “Oh, if only my master could meet the prophet of Samaria, he would be healed of his skin disease.” Naaman went straight to his master and reported what the girl from Israel had said. “Well then, go,” said the king of Aram. “And I’ll send a letter of introduction to the king of Israel.”

So he went off, taking with him about 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothes. Naaman delivered the letter to the king of Israel. The letter read, “When you get this letter, you’ll know that I’ve personally sent my servant Naaman to you; heal him of his skin disease.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he was terribly upset, ripping his robe to pieces. He said, “Am I a god with the power to bring death or life that I get orders to heal this man from his disease? What’s going on here? That king’s trying to pick a fight, that’s what!”

Elisha the man of God heard what had happened, that the king of Israel was so distressed that he’d ripped his robe to shreds. He sent word to the king, “Why are you so upset, ripping your robe like this? Send him to me so he’ll learn that there’s a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman with his horses and chariots arrived in style and stopped at Elisha’s door. Elisha sent out a servant to meet him with this message: “Go to the River Jordan and immerse yourself seven times. Your skin will be healed and you’ll be as good as new.”

Naaman lost his temper. He turned on his heel saying, “I thought he’d personally come out and meet me, call on the name of God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and get rid of the disease. The Damascus rivers, Abana and Pharpar, are cleaner by far than any of the rivers in Israel. Why not bathe in them? I’d at least get clean.” He stomped off, mad as a hornet. But his servants caught up with him and said, “Father, if the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not this simple ‘wash and be clean’?” So he did it. He went down and immersed himself in the Jordan seven times, following the orders of the Holy Man. His skin was healed; it was like the skin of a little baby. He was as good as new.


The Mantle

The Mantle

Pick Up the Mantle
2 Kings 2:6-14
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

It is our time to pick up the mantle.
“What mantle?” You ask.
There is a mantle that is offered to us.
It is a virtual mantle,
not imaginary, not pretend, not phony.
It is the mantle that those who
speak for God wear.
This mantle in no way is like
the cape of a super hero.
It is not like the
one worn on a production
of World Wide Wrestling.
It is invisible, but it is God’s
given authority for us to speak
in God’s name.
Under that mantle we speak
for justice, for hope, for life, for Jesus,
we speak for all those who have no voice,
and we surely speak the Good News
that freedom/liberation/deliverance
is on the way—here!
The words we speak when we wear that mantle
are not our words based on our comfort or our convenience,
but are words that challenge
the very heart and soul of every
political/religious/faith/community/national/state system
that would do harm.
The mantle is not of a glorious nature,
but it is of an eternal nature…
Go ahead, pick it up and put it on…
it will fit you well.

# # #

The mantle of Elijah that Elisha picked up and put on was the powerful mantle of a prophet. It was not a fashion statement, or anything of that nature. It was the symbol of the authority given by God to speak God’s truth to bad leaders and false prophets. By parting the river, Elisha proved that not only did he have Elijah’s mantle, but by the story having him strike the river and part the water we are shown that the power in that mantle goes all the way back to Moses. We are shown that there is real power attached to Elisha!

The fifty men from the Guild of Prophets watching on is significant as well. The Guild itself may well have been akin to a denomination or a region or conference of ministers. They are the witnesses to the transition of power from Elijah to Elisha. They are the ones who work as a unit of prophetic action.

In Hebrew Scripture, the number 50 is the number following 7 squared—7 being the number signifying “spiritual perfection,” and 50 then signifying jubilee or deliverance. It stands for deliverance and rest, and the perfect consummation of time. Here it reflects back to the three squads of fifty soldiers of King Ahaziah who three times challenged Elijah in the last chapter. But this time instead of the 50 being witness to the end of Ahaziah’s days, the number 50 is used to witness the turning over of Elijah’s mantle to Elisha. A completion of time and a fresh beginning as well as a continuance of God’s companionship to the Hebrews.

These prophets were fearless, more or less. They spoke out. They also ran and hid. They were protected by God because they served the function of God speaking to God’s people. God cared for them because of that.

Who are we and what will we be? Will we speak for God or not? What will we do with the mantle? Will we put it on, or will we step away from it and its obligations? How much spiritual courage do we have? Will we stand alone with God and speak out against injustice and evil? Will we hit the river with the mantle and challenge God to act or will we act as if we just misplaced it?

We live in a time where prophets are needed as much as they ever have been needed. Our culture has been victimized by a religiosity that pretends to speak for God, but in reality only posits its own fears and hatreds as if they are the word of God. Is it no wonder that people are leaving the church, denying affiliation with any organized religion, when we’ve got people who claim to be ministers of God proclaiming that things which they feel uncomfortable with are sins?

But more, the number 50 in signifying Jubilee and deliverance, signifies all that Jesus came to bring humanity–— The Good News! The Good News, or the Gospel, is that there is a work in the universe that supercedes Law, Code, Doctrine, Dogma, and culturally appropriate behavior.

In John 5 and in Mark 2 Jesus clearly breaks the law of the Sabbath, by both healing someone, and by picking ears of corn. What Jesus did that is so phenomenal is that he acted against the laws of his time when people needed help. Jesus was a law breaker. It seems that his definition of sin was somewhat different than that of the Pharisees of his time and of the biblical literalists and proof-texters of our own time. From the John text and the Mark text it would appear that sin, for Jesus, rather than being a breaking of a law or a code, would have been using the law or code as an excuse for not helping someone. Jesus was really big on helping.

Let me take a few words and try to explain the terms Pharisee, Sadducee, biblical literalist, and proof-texter in a way that they might make sense as I am using them. The Pharisees and Sadducees were political-religious parties. They were the lawyers and bean counters of Jesus’ time. The Pharisees as a group were less strict in applying the letter of the law than were the unbending Sadducees, yet it was the Pharisees who were constantly attacking Jesus for his stand. There are some scholars who suggest that it was not the Pharisees as a whole who beleaguered, but just a handful of antagonists from within the sect. These were the people who counted Sabbath steps, kept a supply of big rocks on hand to stone people with, and just looked for wrongdoers to point out so as to make themselves feel superior.

A biblical literalist is a term that on the surface seems fairly self-evident. It means to take the bible literally with no room for interpretation at all. A proof-texter is one who uses scriptures out of context as a way to prove their arguments by way of scripture. Both the biblical literalist and the proof-texter claim an unearned innocence insofar as the harm their mis-placed beliefs cause. Their usage of out-of-context scripture to reinforce their fear-claims supporting bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, polygamy, slavery, and war seem ignorant and self-serving. Yet, to listen to them it is pure, unreflective, and unquestioned faith that drives them.  And ironically, then their victims rise up to challenge their mis-conceptions, they act as if they were the victims themselves.

What the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time and the biblical literalists and proof-texters of our own time have in common, is that they demand the letter of the law. Though they would argue otherwise, they seem to care less for the personal well-being of individuals than that the letter of the law or the demands of the text be kept. Somehow, in their need to proclaim their faith, they have lost the heart and soul of that faith.

Jesus kept faith with the spirit of the Law while on occasion ministering outside the Law. Don’t get me wrong here. Laws are good things when they are for the good of the people. But they are not good when they are only for the good of the religious/political ruling parties. Laws that harm the weak and bolster up the powerful must be stood against, challenged, broken. Moses knew this. Elijah new this. Jesus knew this. Gandhi knew this. Mandela, knew this. Martin Luther King knew this. The Founders of our nation knew this. Do we know this?

Sometimes picking up the mantle of God, the mantle of the prophet calls the wearer into places never before considered. Who or what are we called to stand against? How will we do what we are called to do? Will we actually pick up the mantle? I am reminded of the James Russell Lowell poem, “The Present Crisis,” later shortened, put to the Welsh melody, Ebenezer, and re-titled, “Once to Every Man and Nation.” The original poem was written to protest the War with Mexico in 1846-1848:

James Russell Lowell 1819-1891

When a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth’s aching breast
Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west,
And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb
To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime
Of a century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time.
For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along,
Round the earth’s electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong;
Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity’s vast frame
Through its ocean-sundered fibres feels the gush of joy or shame;—
In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim.

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
For Humanity sweeps onward: where to-day the martyr stands,
On the morrow, crouches Judas with the silver in his hands;
Far in front the cross stands ready and the crackling fagots burn,
While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return
To glean up the scattered ashes into History’s golden urn.
Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness ‘twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

And while the lyrics were significantly changed to make the poem into a hymn, the editor was able to hold most of the power of the original:

Once to Every Man and Nation

By James Russell Lowell

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

# # #

2 Kings 2:6-14 — The Message

Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here. God has sent me on an errand to the Jordan.”

Elisha said, “Not on your life! I’m not letting you out of my sight!” And so the two of them went their way together.

Meanwhile, fifty men from the guild of prophets gathered some distance away while the two of them stood at the Jordan.

Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up, and hit the water with it. The river divided and the two men walked through on dry land.

When they reached the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “What can I do for you before I’m taken from you? Ask anything.”

Elisha said, “Your life repeated in my life. I want to be a holy man just like you.”

“That’s a hard one!” said Elijah. “But if you’re watching when I’m taken from you, you’ll get what you’ve asked for. But only if you’re watching.”

And so it happened. They were walking along and talking. Suddenly a chariot and horses of fire came between them and Elijah went up in a whirlwind to heaven. Elisha saw it all and shouted, “My father, my father! You—the chariot and cavalry of Israel!” When he could no longer see anything, he grabbed his robe and ripped it to pieces. Then he picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him, returned to the shore of the Jordan, and stood there. He took Elijah’s cloak—all that was left of Elijah!—and hit the river with it, saying, “Now where is the God of Elijah? Where is he?”

When he struck the water, the river divided and Elisha walked through.