I admit it. I was sorely tempted. I am moving this coming week and the lectionary presented me with a real gift. The epistle reading (at least the optional part of it) has the part of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians where he commands them to “bear one another’s burdens.” What does it mean to bear one another’s burdens? To bear, of course, literally means to carry something. The apostle urges the church to help one another by picking up their oppressive, heavy burdens, like boxes or sofas, and carry them in such a way that relieves them of their trouble. So, … [gesture with hands]. The application would seem pretty clear.
But I would never do that. You all are far too smart. You would have simply responded, “Yes, but Father, three short verses later, St. Paul he says, “Every person must carry their own weights.”
Think about the last job you applied for—or, if you’ve not applied for a job yet, maybe a school application, or any sort of application, really, that you have to wait to hear from. After the application, the screening interviews, maybe a phone call or Skype, additional questions, writing samples, in-person interviews, and follow up conversations, you probably expect at worst a letter saying thanks, but no thanks—or, in the best situation, a phone call saying, Yes, you’re it! We want to hire you!
Now imagine the situation of the great prophet Elijah and his successor, Elisha. Elijah has been told by God to anoint Elisha in his place, but rather than making a phone call, or sending an email, Elijah goes out to look for Elisha—and he finds him tilling the soil, driving a team of twelve yolk of oxen, two dozen oxen—quite a lot of ox power—and to tell him he’s been chosen, Elijah comes alongside the young Elisha and throws his mantle, a big cloak, over him. It might seem strange to our modern ears—imagine if you knew you’d gotten the job when your boss threw his coat over you—but this gesture, the same one from which we get our phrase “assuming the mantle,” means just that—that Elijah is passing his authority, his responsibility, to Elisha—that he has been chosen, he has been named. He is the prophet. He got the job.