Year B: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Mission of the Twelve
Mark 6: 7-13
Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So, they went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
- In what ways do you live your life as someone trusting in God’s providence? In what ways do you not do this? Explain
- Jesus says, “Take nothing for the journey”. How does this injunction relate to our lives today? How do your security needs and material possessions possibly block your entrance to the spiritual path set by Jesus?
- Where in life have you been unwelcome, or experienced rejection and how did you handle it? How might this Gospel reading give you guidance in that regard?
- Why do you think Jesus tells the disciples to “take nothing for the journey” ?
Mary M. McGlone CSJ
Mark 6: 7-13
It helps if we listen to today’s Gospel in its context, remembering that last weeks ended with the statement that Jesus could work no mighty deeds among his own because of their lack of faith. That’s what the disciples witnessed just before Jesus called them together to send them out to carry forth his mission. Given the context, his invitation to mission could have seemed a great set-up for frustration.
Then, to add to the difficulties, Jesus gave them a series of guidelines apparently designed to exaggerate their vulnerability. Disregarding what their mothers had surely told them from the time they were little, Jesus sent them off without any provisions except sandals, a staff and the clothes on their backs. Like Jesus who could work wonders for people who accepted his message, they were to rely on those who received them.
Although the disciples were told not to provide for themselves, Jesus did give them the power to serve others. For the first time in the Gospel, we see here that Jesus not only had authority over the demons, but that very power was something he could bestow on others.
Mark doesn’t tell us much more about their mission — there was no script except to repeat what they had learned from being with Jesus. Accentuating the simplicity of their approach, Jesus told them to stay with the first people who received them rather than to move from place to place. Then, perhaps more realistically, he told them that if a place refused to welcome or listen to them, they should act as if it were a pagan country and shake its dust off them before returning to the Holy Land.
We are left to wonder what those disciples felt as they were sent off. Did they think they were prepared for the task? What were they going to tell others about the repentance/metanoia they were preaching? How had it changed their lives? Were they eager or fearful about entering into combat with the demons? They had seen that the demons knew and spoke out about who Jesus was, what would the evil spirits reveal about them if they perturbed them? Unconcerned about our curiosity, Mark only tells us that the twelve went off and preached repentance and drove out many demons.
Scripture scholar and Jesuit Fr. Silvano Fausti comments on the disciples’ mission saying that they were sent without anything because when we have things, that is what we think we can give. When we have nothing in our hands or pack, we can only give what comes from inside us. Perhaps that’s the symbolic import of Jesus’ sharing of his power over the demons. All that the disciples had to give was what they had received from Jesus, qualities that can’t be contained in a sack or carried on a belt.
Today’s readings invite us to look at our own call as disciples. Most real prophets (Isaiah excepted) don’t choose that profession but find themselves called or cajoled into it. As they put their vocation into practice, they discover that the call to serve others becomes their unique way of entering into communion with God and their own people. The calling draws more out of them than they ever believed they could accomplish. Are we ready to get caught up in that dynamic?
Lacking Nothing for the Journey
Mark 6: 7-13
Injunctions have an honored place in spiritual teaching. We are told to do or not to do something. “Do not be afraid of that which can kill the body and do no more” (see Luke 12:4). “Do not identify with the fruits of your labor” (see Luke 10:17-20). “Take a staff but no bread on your journey” (see Mark 6:8 and parallels).
Although there are many injunctions, there are not corresponding detailed instructions. We are told what to do or not to do, but we are not told exactly how to do it or not to do it or, for that matter, why we should do it. For example, how does one go about not being afraid of the death of the body when the mind is filled with pre-rational tapes about how to protect our bodily identities at all costs? Or how does one go about disidentifying with the fruits of one’s labor when wanting to be recognized for what we have done is one of our strongest driving forces? Or why should we take a walking stick but not bread on the journey?
The spiritual texts are often silent about how to deal with these difficulties. This may be a regrettable lack of specificity on their part, or it may be a deliberate ploy. Injunctions without explanations or instructions may combine to point spiritual seekers in a particular direction and yet allow them the surprise of discovering a truth for themselves.
As we struggle to carry out the injunctions, we learn what we need to know. We encounter obstacles and allies both in ourselves and in our situations. We have to work with these blocks and openings, these resistances and desires. If we are patient and persevere, we will develop spiritually through this work. This means we will coincide with our-selves as spiritual people dynamically living in physical, psychological, and social reality. It also means our lives will become an invitation for others to undertake their spiritual adventure. All this can come about from following the injunctions. We come to see injunctions not primarily as goals to be accomplished but as paths to be walked, paths that will lead us to deeper levels of consciousness.
Someone who might have glimpsed what the disciples experienced by following the injunctions of Jesus is a woman named Peace Pilgrim. For thirty years she walked across America teaching the importance of peace. “I shall remain a wanderer until [humankind] has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter, fasting until I am given food.” What her shelter-less and foodless condition did was allow people to be hospitable. She was always given shelter and food. She created the conditions for the goodness of people to come forth and for them to acknowledge their desire to hear the message of peace. This spiritual wisdom about people and peace was not speculation. She came to it by following a path, a path, I think, that was close to the one Jesus gives his missionary disciples.
Having been at many debriefings, I can see it now: The disciples return with walking stick, sandals, and one tunic, but still without bread, bag or money. As they tell Jesus what they did and what they taught, he asks, “Did you lack anything?” They say, “Nothing”
Ah!” he says.
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.