Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (2 Kings 6:8-23) transports me to a fantastic land where you can’t always believe your eyes. The story could have sprung right out of the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling, complete as it is with invisible creatures and spell-casting wizardry and a surprise twist ending. It’s such a great drama; I don’t know why it hasn’t joined the ranks of flannel board stories for Children’s Church. We do a great job drumming all the sacred slaughterhouse five stories into the kids’ heads: Jericho’s walls come tumbling down (so the people of faith can destroy everything that breathes); Elijah fire-bombs all the opposing prophets on Mount Carmel; little Davie proves the old maxim that the bigger they come the harder they fall. But this treasure of a story in 2 Kings gets left out of the kiddie lit curriculum for some reason. At least I don’t remember ever hearing it as a child. Maybe creative conflict resolution just doesn’t make for good romper room fare. It’s an amazing story, though, guaranteed to peak curiosity and excite the imagination. Ask any youngster who has read Harry Potter to tell you about the thestrals, and then read this story with them, and they’ll make the connection. The passage begins with the man of God and his sidekick in a tight spot, surrounded by a raiding army of their enemy Syrians. The sidekick gets a bit worried, but the man of God reassures him and casts a spell that enables the sidekick to see a host of invisible horses and flaming chariots all around, and then he casts another spell, causing blindness in the enemy ranks. The counter-spell for restoring sight comes after he’s tricked them into entering his lair. All the predictable signs of this story would have us believe we’re about to see another slaughter, but instead, it’s as if someone flips a switch and an awaiting crowd yells “surprise!” We can hardly believe our eyes when we look around expecting to see sabers rattling and instead find tables overflowing with hot wings and kosher cocktail franks and meatballs and potato salad and an invitation to dig in.
In our Jesus story this week, one of the signs of the kingdom involved opening the eyes of the blind. In this precursor story, the seeing eyes, the eyes looking for war, have to be blinded first, before they are re-opened to the possibility of peace. I think this is a good image for us in our world today. Think about how myopic our vision is when it comes to conflict situations and encounters with enemies. We see what we have been schooled to see. We envision only the possibilities the world has laid out for us. Fight or flight. Violence or passivity. Sometimes we need the enchantment of the gospel to blind us to these world visions, so that we can then have our eyes opened to the kingdom vision. The kingdom vision offers a third way, a way beyond fight or flight. It is a way that accesses the power of creative love to transform conflict with surprise initiatives. It is a way that led Elisha to prepare a table in the presence of his enemies, and offer them a feast when they expected a thrashing.
I don’t think Mary and Joseph left this Elisha drama out of the bedtime storytelling when Jesus was a kid. His life and teaching and encounters with enemies seem to be shaped and formed by stories like this, more so than the conquest stories. I wonder if Jesus remembered Elisha’s thestral-like creatures when he hung there on the cross, surrounded by ten thousand creatures visible only to him, ready to do battle for him. But like Elisha, he did not call on them. He chose a more creative way. He chose to cast the ultimate spell of salvation, blinding us to the world and restoring our sight, leading us into the great hall where we will feast with friend and foe alike, saying grace together, by the grace of God.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Seeing the Signs.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.