Today’s Gospel reading happens to correspond to a presentation that I recently made in one of my classes on Luke’s use of Elijah imagery in his Gospel. Luke’s use of Elijah is complex. He does not make a simply one-to-one typological correspondence, but rather seems as concerned to contrast Jesus and Elijah as compare them. Luke contrasts Elijah and Jesus not to criticize Elijah, but rather to show that Jesus is something more than a prophet. Jesus is the Lord, and a Messiah who will bring salvation to all people, not through violence but through the cross.
Jesus explicitly invokes Elijah (and Elisha) in Luke 4:16-30. Here, he reverses the people’s expectations that the Messiah would be a warrior king who would bring God’s blessings on Israel and his wrath on her enemies. Jesus first reads a messianic passage from Isaiah about the blessings the Messiah will bring, and says that this passage is fulfilled in their hearing. This accords with people’s hopes and expectations. But then, he invokes Elijah and Elisha who gave God’s blessings to Gentiles, to say that God’s blessings will be extended outside of Israel. This contradicts the people’s hopes and expectations about membership in the Kingdom of God, and provokes their wrath.
Again in Luke 7:11-17, the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, there are allusions to Elijah raising the son of the widow who fed him during the famine (1 Kings 17:17-24). Here, though, there are notable discontinuities. Elijah uses almost magical efforts to raise the boy–laying upon him and three times breathing upon him (according to the Greek Old Testament which Luke would have used), completed by a powerful plea to the Lord (kyrios in the Greek Old Testament) to raise the boy. By contrast, Jesus simply commands the boy and he is raised. Elijah must beg the Lord for the miracle, whereas Jesus simply commands. Significantly, Luke calls Jesus only “kyrios” in this passage. Elijah must call on the Lord, Jesus is the Lord. Read the rest of this entry »