It can be difficult to discern how instructions given to early Christian missionaries might be applied to modern-day Christians. Mark’s description of this interaction between Jesus and his disciples is meant to inform and encourage early followers of Jesus who were convinced that Jesus would soon return in triumph, probably in their lifetime. The disciplines of traveling lightly, of accepting whatever hospitality was offered to them, and of impressing on their hearers the seriousness and urgency of their message were crucial to helping them stay focused on their important task.
But what do such instructions – to take no bread, no bag, no money; to wear sandals and a simple tunic – have to do with us, who seek to carry out the mission of God in the context of an institutional church embedded in an affluent society? What might these admonitions mean for us?
Let me suggest three possible answers to that question, and invite your further reflection on these words of Jesus.
First, we might consider Christ’s call to us to travel lightly. In what ways has our mission been weighed down by extra “baggage”? The message of Christianity has at times been compromised by missionaries who were overly concerned with their own physical comfort and well-being, and whose reliance on material resources sent from their sponsoring churches undermined the integrity of their call to place one’s faith and trust in God. What testimony will we give in our own generation? Will we, for example, dare to embrace and model a simpler lifestyle – not only in response to growing populations and shrinking resources, but as an act of trust in God’s gracious provision and in obedience to God’s purposes? How will we imitate and follow the one who made himself poor so that we might become rich (II Cor. 8:9), by emptying himself and taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7)? What might this text say to us about our own relationship with, and dependence on, material wealth?
Second, we might consider the urgency of our message and the response of those to whom we offer it.“[Jesus’] command to shake the dust off our feet against those who will not receive us or our message is a reminder that we are responsible for our obedience in mission, but not for the response of others or for results,” writes Lamar Williamson. “We are not to force ourselves on other people or to assume responsibility for their decision. At the same time, we are to understand, and to try to help them understand, the seriousness of their decision and response.”[i] How do Jesus’ words shape how we think about our responsibility to carry the Good News to others?
And finally, we might reflect on the promise imbedded in this commission. In Mark’s gospel it is abundantly clear that the disciples did not grasp the message of Jesus or understand the meaning of his life and death until after the Resurrection. In fact, Mark presents them in a rather unflattering light. And yet, Jesus chooses to send out these bumbling, slow-to-understand followers, entrusting to them his message and his power, and working in and through them to teach, heal and deliver those in need. In like manner, he chooses us and sends us out to accomplish by his power things beyond what we could ask or imagine. Consider how he has chosen you, how he has empowered you, how he has used you as a channel of God’s light and love in the world – and give thanks. Offer yourself anew to him today, and pray that God’s Kingdom will come and God’s will will be done in you and through you this day.
[i] Williamson, Lamar (Jr.); Mark (Interpretation Commentary); Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1983); p. 121.
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