My favorite Elisha story comes from the Second Book of Kings in chapter 6. I think you will enjoy it too – especially when you are able to read the story with all its playful ironies as the author intended.
An enemy army ringed the hills above the town and Elisha’s servant must have frozen in his tracks when he looked up and saw the horses and chariots of the king of Aram in full battle gear.
Elisha’s calm assurances sounded odd. Maybe even naive.
Do not be afraid; there are more with us than there are with them.2 Kings 6
That’s the naive part; the poor servant could clearly see they were badly outnumbered. “Seeing is believing,” right? What else is there to see other than what we can see with our own eyes?!
Then the prophet prayed God would open the eyes of the servant. Yes, there was obviously this one reality, but Elisha could see beyond into another, different but very real reality.
“So the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw.
The mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
“God opened his eyes and he saw.” I love that.
Even as he prayed for a fresh vision for the servant, Elisha asked that the enemy soldiers would become sightless and helpless. So those who thought they could see were blinded and those who yearned to see beyond this physical reality were enlightened.
Sometimes “believing is seeing”
This story of Elisha teaches us that this kind of real vision is not at all naive; it is a gift from God.
Antionette Tuff, a woman who sees
On August 20, 2013 Antoinette Tuff faced a would-be shooter at an elementary school outside of Atlanta. She faced him and she calmly talked him down.
Here was a young man (like too many of our young men) with a history of some mental illness and various run-ins with the law. Here was a young man who felt displaced and disrespected.
And on this particular day, he was particularly hopeless.
When he found a way into the school with an assault rifle, Antoinette working in the front office, met him and realized the seriousness of the situation. But instead of panic (even though her knees must have been knocking) she chose courage.
Instead of blind fear, she saw an alternative reality. She chose to believe “there are more with us than there are with them.”
Antoinette engaged the young man, treated him respectfully, got him to talk and stood right there with a gun in the room, listening and gently sharing for 24 minutes while the 911 operator listened in.
Antoinette is a kind and sympathetic woman. When she looked at this angry young man in this very scary situation, she saw something most people would not/could not see: she saw him as a lost and hurting – although beloved child of God.
Because she saw his hurt and fear, she was able to offer him compassion and love – something he had seen very little of in his troubled life.
How can such grace happen?
How on earth could she manage such grace in such a fearful and dangerous situation?
How can a simple elementary school bookkeeper find the courage and the wisdom to sit alone in a room with a desperate person wielding an assault weapon?
She says she prayed.
- But I think her prayers weren’t only for herself and her own safety.
- Maybe not even just for the students and teachers in that school who were in danger.
- Antoinette was praying for this young man!
- She was praying that his eyes would be opened and his heart would be able to see hope.
When grace comes from brokenness.
Antoinette has brokenness in her own life and so, while they sat together, she told him her own story; she told him about the troubles that had caused her to be suicidal in a time of hopelessness.
But in the telling of her story – while she spoke of heartache, and pain – she also told him about the hope she had found.
Learning how to see
My guess is that she was able to be this kind of courageous, hopeful person herself because – in the hard times of her own life and in the resources of her faith – she has figured out how to see God’s presence even in the most terrible of circumstances.
By God’s grace, Antoinette developed a kind of “double vision:” she could see the dangers right in front of her while at the same time she was able to see hope.
- Antoinette has eyes wide open to the reality of the pain that others suffer;
- eyes opened to her own call and responsibility to share in that pain and to walk with this young man in his suffering;
- eyes open to the ever surprising presence and work of God – a savior who is always moving for wholeness in this fragmented world.
Hopeful vision is an orientation, not an imagination.
This vision is not GPS – global positioning system; rather this way of seeing is more an “EPS” – God’s Eternal Positioning System.
It is this orientation in living that can position us within the solid, absolutely real reality of the Eternal One even when everything around us is fluid, fearful and fleeting.
But how …
But how do we mortals learn how to see our lives and the lives of others from the perspective of the Eternal?
When we are oriented with God’s EPS then we can become open to God’s presence. We can open our minds to God’s work in the world and open our hearts to the presence of God in the lives of others.
It is this orientation that allows God to open our eyes …
- to new visions of reality
- to new possibilities
- to new opportunities.
In my experience, when we open ourselves up to God, then that which God may open up to us is often beyond our imagining and beyond our greatest expectations.
As the lovely little hymn sings: “Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus.”
I believe we CAN see Jesus in the flesh in the life of people like Antoinette Tuff.
- So may we enflesh the love, welcome and hope of Jesus the Christ.
- May people who are looking for Jesus find him right here, right now in us – alive and well as one little part of the body of Christ.
- And may we see the face of Christ in everyone we meet.
Living in The Story readings for Week 34
[Note the similarity in the description of fiery chariots in this Elisha tale and the story of Elijah’s ascent into heaven told in 2 Kings 1. Fire is almost always a symbol for things holy within Scripture.]