The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10B)
Sunday, 15 July 2018
O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people who call upon thee, and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Gospel of Mark moves very quickly. It has to. It has a lot of ground to cover in this format that many scholars believe was intended for dramatic oral performance in a single sitting. By the time we get to this point in the narrative, Jesus has been baptised, gathered his disciples, healed at least eight people of various diseases and disorders, taught in the synagogues across the region, and has laid out a vision of the Kingdom of God. Today’s Gospel is in some way a summation of all this work as Jesus now sends his disciples out to do on their own the work that they have witnessed Jesus do himself as they journeyed with him.
Taking stock of where we have been makes sense as we try to understand the mission of the disciples and, by extension, the work of the unfolding Kingdom of God that is unfolding even now in our own time. Jesus burst onto the scene when he came to be baptised by John and “a voice came from heaven [announcing] 'you are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” He was immediately driven into the wilderness for a time and, returning from this period of temptation and fasting, launched into his work of healing and teaching. For Mark this is what Jesus does, this is who he is. He is the one who shows his authority, his command of the forces of nature and of the cosmos by his work of healing, of driving away spirits. He shares a message of repentance with the people whom he meets and they are drawn to him. The repentance he teaches is not simply that people should somehow feel bad about their old lives, or make up for past misdeeds, but that they should engage in a fundamental transformation, a reorientation of their lives towards the work of God, the working out of the kingdom, of the reconciliation of all things with their source and creator.
Everything about Jesus was revolutionary and it was unsettling to those in power. From the moment of his baptism, Jesus claimed authority from God as the Son of Man to heal, which he did whenever he met someone in need, even on the Sabbath. He gave new life to anyone he met, anyone from the most privileged synagogue authorities like Jairus to the unnamed and unseen woman with the flow of blood. He gathered around himself people from all walks of life from the fishermen Andrew and Simon Peter to Matthew the tax collector. He broke bread with "tax collectors and sinners" and redefined the notion of family, stating “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” The people said they “had never seen anything like this” (2:12).
Jesus, the Son of Man incarnate into creation, God’s beloved son, in doing the work of God in the world, created a new model of community and for ministering to it. Jesus had gathered his twelve disciples and they had come with him and witnessed him doing all these things, redefining the work of God in the world. Jesus had shared with them wisdom about the nature of the Kingdom of God, how it is generous in who is to be invited into its work, how in the Kingdom nothing is hidden, how the Kingdom grows and flourishes in a process not unlike the ways of the natural world, and how the Kingdom will start as something small, something easy to ignore or dismiss, but grow into something huge. Now it is time for the disciples to go forth and deliver this message, carrying on this work themselves.
So Mark tells us that “[Jesus] called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” When they will inevitably be asked in whose name they heal and in whose name they preach, the disciples will say they do it in the name of Jesus, the Son of Man, whose own authority was given him by his father, our God. The disciples act not because of any inherent power they possess, but because of the authority given them. Authority is something passed along, something earned and then conferred.
They are to do their work simply, “to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.” They are to have only the bare necessities, not even food or money, and they are to expect hospitality from those who will receive their message. They are to follow Jesus' own example, as we have ourselves witnessed from Mark's narrative and,
where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.
They are to gratefully receive the welcome they are given and when they are not welcomed—as Jesus knows they may not be—they are to respond positively, without violence or recrimination and move on. The sower sows his seed freely and sometimes the seed will take and sometimes it won't. This is how the Kingdom goes. The reception, or the anticipation of one, never affects the abandon with which the seeds are scattered. No matter how many seeds find rocky ground, many will land, find fertile soil, and grow like the mustard seed into the greatest of plants.
The disciples, having seen Jesus do his work, having absorbed the lessons of the parables and Jesus’ other teaching now, having themselves repented, fundamentally changed and reoriented their lives to working on behalf of the unfolding Kingdom of God, “went out and preached that [all] should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.” The disciples would, of course, return to Jesus, rejoin him after hearing of the death of John the Baptist, continue to learn from him, continue to be shown more deeply who Jesus is, that he would be the one to suffer many things, be killed, and on the third day rise again. Nevertheless, the instructions given them at this point, almost half way through the story, must have continued to serve as a model for their ministry long after the Resurrection. This model of ministry continues to serve as a model of ministry for us.
The example Jesus set—to include everyone, to be just and loving even in the face of legal objections, to heal the sick, and proclaim the sovereignly of God over the powers both of this world and of the cosmos—is a standard to which we can aspire and that we can imitate. Jesus' command to the disciples can help guide us in our work: keep it simple, look for hospitality and welcome, be resilient and positive in the face of setbacks, keep working, keep throwing out the seeds, and proclaiming the Good News of repentance, the Good New of the Kingdom of God.
Andrew C. Blume✠
Feria, 13 July 2018
© 2018 Andrew Charles Blume