The Passing of the MantleNovember 1, 2011
(2 Kings 2:13-14)
In this Biblical narrative, prophet Elijah felt that he was nearing “retirement”, that God would end his ministry soon. Therefore he gave final instructions to his young disciple, Elisha, preparing him to take on new duties. The actual “transfer of power” between the two took place near the Jordan River where suddenly a “chariot of fire” separated them and “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven”. Only his mantle had fallen from him, to Elisha, who continued to use it well in his future activity. Since Elijah and Elisha, this moving event, the “passing of the mantle”, has been repeated innumerable times and in great variations. It reinforces the basic truth of life that generations stand in line with each other, the elderly ready to relinquish, and the young to assume responsibilities.
Recently I found myself tangibly being part of such a story. At the September opening of the Karoli Gaspar Reformed University, in Budapest, an “official” ceremony was held thanking God for my seventeen years of teaching here as a missionary from the United Church of Christ. An attractive Certificate of Appreciation was granted me with a plaque of the school, and I was encouraged to launch a new phase of life – preparation for retirement.
I’m not alone in dealing with this situation. A number of good friends and colleagues near my age are facing the same issue. In our place, new and young faculty are being hired - most of them previous students of ours! The Passing of the Mantle repeats itself not only symbolically but in a literal sense as well as the young generation take over our tasks. Karoli Gaspar University will never be the same.
Studying 2 Kings 2:13-14 we can find at least three issues that are particularly relevant to our situation. When Elijah was taken away, his mantle was left behind for Elisha and that mantle continued to remain a useful working tool. As educators we may ask, what kind of mantle do we leave behind? Are we passing on such faith and such knowledge that can strengthen the ministry of those who follow us? Our know-how and experience must be functional for those who take our place.
Advisors on retirement speak of the importance of timing with such an event. When should a professor of theology, especially a missionary person, retire? The timing of Elijah’s retirement was determined not by the prophet or Elisha, but by God. The Lord knew when Elijah had had enough, when his diminishing faculties would have made the continuation of his ministry more difficult and less effective. (Up to this time in my spiritual journey I was encouraged to seek and enter through those doors which were opened by the Creator; now however, I need to recognize that certain important doors are permanently closing. However, in looking around at the world’s economic, social and environmental stressors, I do realize that for many of us it is a privilege to be able to retire!)
It is quite unlikely that on the first day of retirement we will be taken up by God on a “chariot of fire”. Each of us still will have the skill, the knowledge, and especially the time to do a variety of needed work. Between the “chariot” and the rocking chair there will be plenty of opportunities to remain active and involved.
The “Passing of the Mantle” is a universal story. It is a reminder that while you have time don’t forget to pass on your mantle, which, like everything else you have, is not really yours but belongs to God.
Laslo and Coralyn Medyesy are missionaries with the Reformed Church in Hungary, based in Budapest, Hungary. Laslo serves as professor of theology in the Department of Theology of the Gaspar Karoli Reformed University in Budapest. Coralyn T. Medyesy serves as a teacher of Social Work and Diakonia at the Nagy Koros School.
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