In the footsteps of Jesus

The Bible readings for today are 2 Kings 2.9-12; Psalm 80.1-4, 18-19; Matthew 17.10-13.

The Bible contains quite a few succession narratives. These stories recount the details surrounding the handing of the baton to the next generation of prophets, priests or kings. Joshua succeeds Moses, Solomon succeeds David, Elisha succeeds Elijah, and so on. The succession of Elijah is a story with all kinds of open-ended possibilities. On the face of it he is simply succeeded by Elisha but the story of his translation to heaven keeps eternally open the possibility of a sequel. So it was that a return of Elijah as forerunner of the messiah became anticipated. In Matthew’s Gospel John the Baptist takes on the mantle of Elijah and fulfills this role. In a way then, Elijah is succeeded by John just as John is succeeded by Jesus. Jesus in turn hands on the baton to his followers, to the church. There is of course something troubling about all this. Matthew says that (the leaders of) the people failed to recognize John and persecuted him. The Son of Man too would suffer at their hands says Matthew. Is there not here an unspoken and troubling implication for those who follow Jesus?

As we remember in our prayers today all those who are suffering because of their faith in Jesus, we join with them and sing:

O let me see your footmarks,
and in them plant my own;
my hope to follow truly
is in your strength alone:
O guide me, call me, draw me,
uphold me to the end;
and then in heaven receive me,
my Saviour and my friend!

J. E. Bode (1816–74).

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