Mark 6:7-13

The Mission (1) -  Bringing Wholeness

Mark 6:7-13 Jesus Sends the Twelve on Mission

Earlier in the narrative Mark had mentioned Jesus' calling disciples and commissioning twelve of them to be sent out [apostles] to proclaim the message and to have authority over demons (and who were for that reason) called.  Only at this stage of the narrative did Jesus actually send them out.  They had had the opportunity to see him at work and had been helped to reflect on the meaning of his activity and his message.  

7 [Jesus] called the twelve to him
and started to send them out in twos.  
He gave them power over unclean spirits.

The process adopted by Jesus was significant.  Firstly they had been with him and had observed his approach, and to a certain extent had been personally involved in his activity.  Jesus now took a further step in their formation.  He gave them responsibility to act without his being present.  Indeed human formation requires more than observation: it needs action. 

Jesus obviously trusted them.  Interestingly, they were not really ready for mission; they had so much still to learn. Yet their formation could happen only through their own activity, and through the questions that their activity would raise and make real for them.  It seems to be part of the human condition that learning occurs mainly in process.

Perhaps one aspect of the message of the Kingdom is that imperfection does not disqualify from mission or from responsibility.  Indeed, imperfection can proceed towards further growth only through the assumption of responsibility.  In the issues that matter, people are always out of their depth.  Jesus' own insight into the deepening nature of his mission was also a gradual process.

Their mission was not to recruit further disciples.  It was to further the Kingdom.  The Kingdom was what mattered.  The purpose of the Christian community was to proclaim God's Kingdom, and other interests of the community were subordinate to that. The Christian community was not an end in itself, but a means to an end.

Jesus was also clear about the nature of their involvement.  They were to engage with, to name and to confront the evil of their world with the energising power of Jesus.  This confrontation would occur not with the weapons of evil, the futile effort to destroy evil with violence.  Jesus shared with them his authority, the 'outflowing of being' and of life.  Jesus had confronted untruth with truth, violence with respect and love - they were to do the same.

He sent them out in twos, perhaps for two reasons.  

  • Given the power of the evil embedded in the world, they needed the support of each other in their confrontation with it.  
  • But also their working together was itself an example of what the Kingdom was about: they were to establish community, to draw people beyond their marginalisation and alienation, to enable sharing of vision and active cooperation.  Their role was not to preach the Kingdom but to exemplify it.  The emphasis on their togetherness may have been the reason why in this episode Mark referred to the disciples not specifically as apostles, but as the twelve, a title that seemed to resonate better with the idea of the new community and their foundational role in it.
8 He directed that they take nothing for the road except a staff –
no bread, no bag, and no money in their money-belts.
9 “Wear sandals”, he said “but do not put on two tunics”.. 
10 Then he told them, “Whatever home you enter,
stay there until you leave there.
11 Whenever a place does not welcome you
and people do not listen to you,
as you leave there,
shake off the dust under your feet
in witness against them.” 

The directives given by Jesus did not deal directly with the nature of their mission.  They dealt with what at first sight looked irrelevant: how they were to travel.  Certainly, distances were short, probably no more than one hour's walk between villages.  So the actual journeying was minimal: they did not need to gird up for a major expedition.  Yet they were to travel without money, and to rely on the hospitality offered them by villagers.

As was the case with their travelling in twos, perhaps their dependence on generosity was also an instance of the "medium being the message".  For Jesus the God of the Kingdom was the God of "enough", provided that people lived in line with their own and each other's inherent human dignity.  Their reliance on God was the living out of their faith in God.  If people did not see that message, they did not see the essence of the Kingdom.

Given the sense of urgency behind the mission, they were not to waste time waiting for any delayed change of heart.  People either saw for what it was the evil encountered and confronted by the disciples , or else they were themselves part of the problem.  The gesture of shaking off the dust was not original, but was a cultural way of showing disdain.  The phrase witness against them is rightly translated.  It was basically a comment of defiance (and perhaps should have been translated and understood as such in the earlier incident of the leper sent off by Jesus to show himself to the priests [1:43]).

12 They went out preaching that people radically change.  
13 They cast out many demons
and anointed with oil many who were sick, and cured them.

Jesus had made no mention of anointing with oil or of healing the sick (and thereby bringing the sick and stigmatised back to a state of self-respect and integration into the life of the community).  Yet, the gesture paralleled the confrontation with evil and the casting out of demons, and, as with Jesus himself, exemplified one of the aspects of the Kingdom.

Next >> Mark 6:14-16