Why did Elisha get to say goodbye?
Did you know…
. . .that Jesus is referencing a story from Hebrew Scripture in this week's gospel reading? In the final two verses of the story Jesus has an interaction with someone who says they will follow him but only after they say goodbye to their family:
Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” And Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
The request to say goodbye to loved ones and the use of the plow in Jesus' metaphor are both references to another story of someone being called in Hebrew Scripture. Back in 1 Kings 19 we hear the story of the prophet Elijah calling Elisha to follow him and take up his prophetic ministry:
1 Kings 19:19-21
So he set out from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah and became his servant.
Unlike Jesus in the gospel story, Elijah seems more than willing to let Elisha return to his mother and father to say goodbye. And not only that, but Elisha makes a full meal for his family out of the oxen and plow as he departs. With this story clearly in mind why does Jesus not allow this potential disciple to return to their home and say goodbye to their family like Elisha was allowed to do? What is different to Jesus about the calling of this person compared to that of Elisha?