You Better Know Your Bears
“Elisha was on his way to Bethel and some little kids came out from the town and taunted him, ‘What’s up, old baldhead!’ Elisha turned, took one look at them, and cursed them in the name of God. Two bears charged out of the underbrush and knocked them about, ripping them limb from limb – forty-two children in all!” – 2 Kings 2:23-25
I haven’t been teased for being bald by a pack of teenagers. Yet. But I know how it feels to be mocked. It stings. It’s shameful.
Elisha apprenticed under the prophet Elijah. Elijah had beautiful hair. Scripture says, “Elijah was a Lord of hair with a leather girdle bound about his loins.”
Elijah looked like Fabio. Elisha was more Paul Giamatti. And here come these juvenile delinquents, “Hey baldy!” Elisha cringes. “Hey! You. Baldy!” Dozens of voices mocking, “Baaaaaldy!” Elisha feels so exposed, alone, powerless.
He’d like to tear these punks apart. He’s an important man, God’s mouthpiece, mock him and you mock the Lord! Who do these kids think they are? “Arghh!” Elisha roars and his bears come running. Blood runs everywhere.
I bet Elisha felt so much regret. He was a good man. He cured people of leprosy, raised the dead, multiplied bread to feed the hungry.
He was like Jesus. Except for the bears.
Here’s the thing: You’ve also got a pair of bears lurking in the underbrush.
Carl Jung taught that each one of us has a “shadow aspect.” Your shadow in an unconscious aspect of your personality, the least desirable part of who you are, the part you won’t acknowledge.
Elisha, was a loving wonder-worker. And he was petty, angry, proud. He wouldn’t accept those parts of himself. So they lurked in the woods, waiting to surprise him. The man didn’t know his bears. When they leapt into his life they raged out of his control.
You better know your bears. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. For only when we see ourselves for who we truly are can we hope to calm our bears, soothe them, even use them. If we don’t, they’ll use us. When that happens things get ugly. Just ask Elisha.
Dear God, give us the courage to bring our bears before you. Amen.
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ in Chicago. He is the host of “Preachers on Preaching,” a weekly podcast sponsored by The Christian Century.