Elijah is indeed coming first and he will get everything ready. But I tell you that Elijah has already come and people did not recognize him, but treated him just as they pleased. In the same way they will also mistreat the Son of Man.
The disciples have just witnessed the miraculous Transfiguration of Jesus (See Day 151). He began to glow, then Elijah and Moses appeared, and then the voice of God announced that God is pleased with Jesus and that he wants everyone to listen to him.
Now, just having seen all this, including the appearance of Elijah, they ask Jesus this question: “Why do the teachers of the Law say that Elijah has to come first?”
It seems a little strange. Here they have just seen this fabulous miracle, and this is all they have to say? Idle theological chit-chat? Why don’t they reflect on what they have just seen? Why don’t they ask Jesus about what just happened? Aren’t they interested in what Moses and Elijah had to say? I mean, it seems like a pretty vapid question.
Jesus replies with an appropriately sardonic response. He affirms that Elijah “is coming” and “will get everything ready.” Then he says that Elijah “has already come” and people didn’t recognize him. Then he alludes to his own upcoming death once again.
I already reflected on Elijah on Day 105. He was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. He is known for the many miracles that accompanied his ministry, and is credited for standing up against the evil regime of Queen Jezebel and King Ahab. His task was to make Israel a safe place for the other Jewish prophets and worshippers. It is perhaps for this reason that the Jews surmised that a resurrected or reincarnated Elijah would eventually return and prepare the way for the Messiah, who would come and get rid of all of the world’s unpleasantness.
Many people of Jesus’ day believed that John the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah. While Elijah came to liberate Israel from an evil monarchy, John the Baptist came to urge the Jews to confront their greatest enemy – themselves. One might say that he came to get the people to repent and make Israel safe for all people of good will; to make it safe for love.
So the disciples asked why they teach that Elijah has to precede the Messiah and the obvious answer is that someone needs to prepare the way. But what answer does Jesus provide? None. He does not answer their question. He ignores it. Instead he addresses the reality of the situation. They killed John the Baptist, and they will kill him also. Why? Because he has observed that the people don’t want to receive God’s message to humanity. They don’t like what God has to say. They are not yet ready to live in the Kingdom of God.
Meanwhile the disciples sit around debating theological precepts and prophecies, ignoring the significance of everything that’s going on around them. It’s really not so different today. Jesus has told us what we need to know. Maybe we all need to stop being preoccupied with irrelevant theological arguments and start focusing our attention on loving others. Maybe we need to stop running from the truth. You can’t stop God’s truth by killing his messengers, or by blocking out his voice with religiosity and other worldly distractions. We need to listen to what Jesus has to say, assimilate it, and focus our efforts on living it out.
Most of all we need to stop waiting. Jews are still waiting for Elijah, the Messiah, and the New Age. Christians are waiting for the second coming of Christ, the end of the world, and the Kingdom of God. Waiting doesn’t work. Jesus tells us repeatedly that waiting accomplishes nothing. We already have everything we need to make the world a better place. We need to stop waiting and start doing. We have everything we need to start releasing the power of love.
Why does Elijah have to come? To me, Jesus is saying it doesn’t matter. It is what it is. Elijah came as John the Baptist. He was abused and killed. Jesus says that he came to give us the keys to the Kingdom. He says that he, too, will be abused and killed. Elijahs and Messiahs can come and go but it doesn’t matter if the people aren’t ready to receive them and move ahead. None of the prophecies matter if all the people want to do is sit around and watch and wait and nit-pick and chit-chat about theology. I think he is telling them that he’s seeing too much talk and not enough action. Or maybe too much of the wrong kind of talking and the wrong kind of thinking. That’s what I get out of it.
What does this scripture say to you?