In Wednesday Night Sunday School we cover this bit of 1 Kings 19:
Elijah set out and came upon Elisha, son of Shaphat,
as he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen;
he was following the twelfth.
Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak over him.
As I read, the kids explain the significance of 12 oxen:
“Why 12 oxen? ‘Cause there are 12 tribes! Yes. Why 12 tribes? ‘Cause he had 12 sons! Who? Joseph! No, Joseph’s daddy…he grabbed his brother’s heel…Jacob! Yes, whose name was changed to…he wrestled all night with the angel...Israel! Yes, so the twelve- Israel! Yes, ya too fast!”
We go on to discuss the significance of Elisha allowing Elijah to put his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders, which a boy and I act out with my suit jacket. And we finish with these lines:
Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said,
“Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,
and I will follow you.”
Elijah answered, “Go back!
Have I done anything to you?”
Elisha left him, and taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them;
he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh,
and gave it to his people to eat.
Then Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant.
That vignette was the O.T. reading for the Mass on June 30. It was appropriately paired with this Gospel reading from Luke 19:
And to [someone] he said, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead.
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
And another said, “I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”
To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Since we have the benefit of a complete Bible, OT and NT, it’s easy for the Church to pair stories like this so we can see the connection. But at the moment that Jesus had this conversation, would anyone have realized Jesus was riffing on Elijah? Let me guess: probably not, excepting any ‘well-versed’ scribe or Pharisee within earshot. So my next guess is that’s why Jesus referred to plowing: to help the average illiterate listener link this teaching moment to Elisha’s discipleship; and to see that Jesus set a higher standard than Elijah.
I don’t have time in the catechetical year to cover that NT story. But if I did, I expect the kids would nail the plow reference with no trouble because it had been vividly portrayed earlier; and via the usual Q&A process, then figure out what Jesus was driving at.
1. When the NT alludes to the OT, make sure the kids get the connection.
2. Put the kids into the live context of a story, and remind them if necessary that few witnesses to an event can assess its full significance on the spot.