17–23 June 2018.
Suddenly in 2 Kings 13, in the middle of a lot of fairly dry lists of all the different kings of Israel and Judah, we find a strange little story about the prophet Elisha. King Joash of Israel hears news that Elisha is about to die, and so the king rushes to see him and weeps by Elisha’s bedside.
That behaviour may seem a little strange for a noble king to do, but we see here the incredible respect that a life of faith and holiness creates in others. Even today, millions of people are attracted to the Catholic pope or the Dalai Lama, drawn to the quiet calmness and grace that radiates from their holy lives. Pop stars and sports people have their fans, but there is something especially powerful and attractive about holiness. Elisha is not a wealthy businessperson or pop star, but he shows us how his simple life of holiness even attracts a king to his side.
But in the same way that pop star fans can take their love too far, an attraction towards so-called holy people can also spill over into something very unhealthy. In the long history of our faith many people began worshipping saints and even thinking of them as having magical powers. We see a strange example of this idea in 2 Kings 13. After Elisha died, the writer tells us that one day a dead body accidentally bumped up against Elisha’s old bones, and then the dead body miraculously came back to life. Nowhere else in the Bible do we come across such a strange idea. The Bible message is that power comes from God alone. All human beings (Elisha included) are just ordinary people who are made from dust and return to dust when they die. None of us are magical.
If you have ever visited Europe’s great Catholic cathedrals, you may have seen that many churches still hold onto the bones or body parts of old saints. Many church people also still believe that those body parts hold magical powers to bless or heal. Five hundred years ago, this type of superstitious belief in the power of these relics prompted Martin Luther to launch the Protestant Reformation and re-educate the church’s believers. That’s why we don’t have such relics in our churches today.
Holiness is appealing and attractive – and that’s a wonderful thing! It’s truly great to know that a life lived well and in line with God’s expectations will quietly draw other people to it. But in the end we have to remember that our faith is not in holy people (or in the power of their body parts after they have died!). Saints are great role models for us, and they are a valuable encouragement for us to also live holy lives like they did. But our faith is not in magical people; it is always only in God alone.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis