Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
(II Kings 2:1.6-14; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)
“Is there a Santa Claus?” children ask. If they are old enough, one might answer, “It depends what you mean by Santa.” Santa Claus is not a man who lives at the North Pole and takes toys to every boy and girl on Christmas Eve. But Santa Claus may be thought of as God Himself who loves every child so much that He moves hundreds of millions of parents to express His affection. The story of Elijah’s assumption into heaven told in the first reading may be seen in a similar way.
It is a fantastic tale. The old Elijah is walking along with his young companion when a flaming chariot sweeps him into heaven. Although biblical literalists consider it historical, more probably Elijah’s assumption is a figurative way of saying that he dies in God’s favor, perhaps with horses pulling his casket to its burial place. The Old Testament is filled with such wondrous testimony – Methuselah living almost a thousand years or Ezekiel bringing dry bones to life.
We should not be either defensive of or disillusioned by the story of Elijah’s assumption. Demythologizing it will not backslide into forsaking belief in Christ’s resurrection. Much of the Old Testament serves as a type for the New. What is presented there hints at what is to come in Christ. Elijah, living more than eight hundred years before Christ, confirms the righteousness of God. His leaving a double portion of his spirit on Elisha foreshadows Jesus’ sending the Holy Spirit with marvelous powers on his disciples.