Gospel for Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (12 July 2015)
Notes by Michael Whelan SM
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. (Mark 6:7-13 – NRSVCE)
There are similar accounts in Matthew 10.5–15 and Luke 9.1–6.
"He begins to shift responsibility to his disciples. Jesus had no intention of being a solo artist in the work to which God had called him. Rather, from the outset he called (1:16–20), designated (3:13–19), and taught (4:10–12) a select group of followers. In 6:7–13 he continues their training in a trial mission in which they go as his representatives or deputies, commissioned, empowered, and instructed by him." (J R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, Eerdmans, 2002, 176.)
Significantly enough, the story of the execution of John the Baptist (6:14-29) follows the sending of the disciples on their mission. The mission is not about the disciples. They must be willing to give their all, even their lives.
The Greek verb used here – apostellein (ἀποστέλλειν) – meaning "to send" gives us the English word "apostle".
We should not look to the Greek Cynic philosophers to understand the instructions of Jesus to the disciples: "to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics". We should look rather to Exodus 12:11: "This is how you shall eat (the passover lamb): your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand." Those Jesus is sending out are witnesses to a New Exodus!
"Trust in the Jesus who sends them into mission includes trust in those whom he has designated to meet their needs. Moving from house to house dishonors their hosts and creates invidiousness among them. If the disciples are rebuffed they are instructed to "'shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.'" This is a searing indictment since Jews traveling outside Palestine were required to shake
themselves free of dust when returning home lest they pollute the holy land. This commandment is tantamount to declaring a Jewish village heathen. Jesus' reference to Israel by a Gentile figure of speech has the effect of desacralizing Eretz Israel, thus eliminating the presumption of salvation on the basis of ethnicity, nation, or race. Even in the Promised Land there will be those who reject the Promised One. "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel" (Rom 9:6). Nevertheless, as v. 12 indicates, the purpose of the warning is not to damn but to induce repentance." (J R Edwards, op cit, 181.)
There is a very significant phrase in this text: Jesus order them to take nothing for their journey. What is going on here?
We might begin to gain some insight into this "order" if we consider a common human experience. How often in life we find that something "we cannot do without" is removed and we suddenly come to realise that, not only can we get along without that but we have actually grown because we no longer have that.
Affluence, comfort, ease, can reshape our sense of what is real. Wishes and attachments, routines and comforts can easily become "necessities". The loss of these "necessities" – deliberately facilitated or taken from us by circumstances – can be an experience of liberation. We can see as we have not seen before.
Lurking in our felt sense of "necessity" is perhaps a degree of selfishness? Perhaps ignorance? Perhaps an underestimation of my true possibilities?
Life strips us back to what matters – if we let it. Life is purifying – if we let it be. Pain and suffering and, yes, even our encounters with iniquity, can be liberating. One of the truly startling paradoxes of life is that our mistakes and failings and even our sins, contain the seeds of our freedom – the truth in these dark and the truth of these dark moments, when face honestly, is liberating.
Gradually we must learn that it is Jesus Christ we proclaim, it is by the power of Jesus Christ that we live, it is earthen vessels we are, carrying the Mystery to the world. Our task is to get out of the way.
"A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth— that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way— an honorable way— in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, 'The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory'." (Viktor Frankl, Man's Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust (Kindle Locations 562-569). Ebury Publishing. Kindle Edition, 2013.)