Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Things move quickly in the gospel of Mark. There is hardly enough time to even grab a bite to eat (3:20, 6:31). Reading from Mark now, with its piling up of events one upon the other, is perhaps counter-intuitive to our summer in the Northern Hemisphere when we try to slow our lives down to take advantage of the (hopefully) more pleasant weather.
Already here in just the 6th chapter, however, Jesus, stepping onto the stage fully grown, has been baptized, called his disciples, been proclaiming the good news and teaching with authority, exorcising unclean spirits, healing the sick and the lame, stated his lordship over the Sabbath, redefined his family, calmed the sea and the wind, raised a child from the dead and spent deliberate time teaching his disciples separately.
He has been, in short, amazing. Now he chooses to return to his hometown, to the people he grew up with and, suddenly, he is five years old again, or at least just a carpenter. They know who he is, defining him by his relationship to his biological mother, brothers and sisters. They know what he can and cannot do. The extent of their unbelief amazes Jesus. It undoes, to an extent, what he is able to do amongst them.
I find in this part of the text a caution that is rather frightening. There is the chance that we can miss out on Jesus. The church – the Body of Christ, his hometown if you will, should take note. How has or is our confident knowing of who Jesus is, our arrogant definitions of what he can and cannot do curbed his power to transform us and others? Are we or have we been offended by Jesus, whose power Paul relays to us in 2 Corinthians is made perfect in weakness (12:9)? Unbelief is not a way I would want us to amaze Jesus.
So, Jesus moves on. On to the surrounding villages and to the task of sending the disciples, of making them apostles, for the time is short while the task and the world is large. Notice how Jesus does this. He sends the apostles out two by two (I cannot help but be reminded of the animals that go into the ark two by two but come out again by families).
Now twelve sent out individually surely could cover more ground than six groups of two but two together are able to encourage and challenge one another, to remind one another of what Jesus had said, taught and showed them about the good news and the kingdom of God. It is really what we do each week as we gather together for worship, being reminded of who and whose we are before we are sent back out in to the world again on Monday.
Next, Jesus puts them into a position of need. They are allowed a staff, one tunic and sandals but no food, no extra possessions, no money. The staff, besides being a walking stick, perhaps is to remind them that they are becoming shepherds as Jesus has been their shepherd and harks back to the staff of Moses. They are given authority over unclean spirits. They do not go alone. They do go in need of hospitality, however, and of an openness to hear the gospel message they bring.
A warning reminiscent of what happens in the earlier part of this text is given them to impart if they are rebuffed – shaking off the very dust of a place that is inhospitable and filled with unbelief. There is a chance that the gospel message can be missed. We must make room in our heart and our lives for the message that the apostles not only bring but embody in their sending – that the amazing grace of Jesus the Christ is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).