Our reading from 2 Kings today is one of my favorite from this book. We read of two great people in Scripture, Elijah and Elisha. The student and the master. It is no accident that their names sound similar. It can be easy to get confused and tongue twisted over Elijah and Elisha. This is intentional because the author of 2 Kings is trying to tell us that these two people are connected. Not only is there a strong bond between them as can be between a pupil and his or her mentor, but also in that the one will succeed the other.
We get a sense of just how strong their relationship is during our reading today when Elijah, the master, tells Elisha, his student, to stay behind and wait. At least three times Elijah asks Elisha to stay behind. Each time, Elisha refuses and continues on the road with Elijah. In a way, Elijah telling Elisha to stay is because Elijah recognizes that the time is coming soon for him to depart and that Elisha will need to stay and continue the good work they have begun. At each stop along the way Elijah recognizes the need for Elisha to stay and continue the work he has already begun; that they have done together. But neither of them really wants to say good-buy just yet and so they continue. Elisha does not want to leave because Elijah is his mentor. He is someone whom Elisha has grown to respect and admire. Like many of us who have a strong connection with a mentor, there is always a sense that we are not ready to leave and a yearning to learn more from them. The same is for Elisha. He is going to stay and get his money’s worth from Elijah.
But we all know, and they certainly know, that the time comes when they must part ways. When the time does come, it comes with biblical proportions with chariots and fire and all kinds of things as Elijah is carried off, and Elisha assumes the role of his former master. Less so for us, but still just as profound. When the time comes for us to leave our mentor’s side, it is highly unlikely that it will occur in the same way as it did for Elisha. But the effect of this change is still significant in its own way.
What is happening in this passage, and that happens to all of us from time to time, is a rite of passage, a time of transition where we turn from student, to being one who is now in charge, independent and able to carry out the work required of us. The sense of responsibility that this can bring can be immense.
For me, one such time was when I had graduated as a Registered Nurse. I had completed my formal education and was hired on the orthopedic floor at Kelowna General Hospital. Once hired, the practice was that all new hires would undergo orientation where they would essentially shadow a veteran nurse on the floor. At the time, the standard orientation was about 3-4 weeks. In a way, during orientation, not much seemed different. I was already familiar with the floor as I had worked orthopedics as a student nurse and was used to having another RN supervise my work. The change happened when orientation was complete.
The first week following orientation, I suddenly realized that now it was up to me. Now it was me who was responsible for making all the decisions for the team and ultimately carried the full burden of that responsibility. Before, I had professors, supervisors and my nurse mentor who I was shadowing to lean on for advice and support. Now, after orientation, many of these supports were not available in the same way. They had other students or their own patients and teams to manage. There was, of course, that natural urge to still have my nurse mentor with me. We got on really well and could intuit each other’s decisions and thought process. At the same time I realized that now it was up to me to continue and perhaps be a mentor to someone else.
This is ultimately what the Lord requires of us. as we grow and develop in our faith, professional and social lives we too take on the burden of responsibility for carrying on the good work that has been entrusted to us by our ancestors, the prophets of old, the first disciples and of course Jesus, our ultimate mentor and teacher.
This is an awesome responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. How we live and work in the world, the decisions we make in the grocery stores, community centers and interactions with friends and neighbors is deeply entrenched in our upbringing and our core values as people.
But as much as any transition at any time can be overwhelming, we are not alone. We are never alone. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. We learn from them and we in turn have the opportunity to nurture and support others who look up to us for support and the knowledge that we have. The day always comes when we change from student to mentor ourselves. The humbling thing about that is so often we see ourselves in the ones who look up to us and often we have as much to learn as they do.
When we become the mentors for others, how do we shape and mold them so that they too can carry on the good work already started in this place at this time. The time is now and the time is ours to shape a future that is better for not only us, but for the generations who will follow.