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Bind them as a sign on your hand (Deut 6:8)

Next Sunday’s Gospel

The Gospel readings are often identical in the
Revised Common Lectionary

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Mark 6:6b Then Jesus went about among the villages teaching. Mark 6:6b Then Jesus went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 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.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Initial Observations

The appointment of the Twelve and their sending out are found in Mark 3:13-19, Matthew 10:1-4 and Luke 12:12-16; Matthew 10:1-16; Luke 9:1-6 and here in Mark 6:7-13. (Luke alone has the special sending of seventy-two in 10:1-16.) It looks in all cases that the later experience of the mission has had an influence on the details of the telling. This “adjustment” was a way of making the instructions of Jesus relevant in later, unforeseen circumstances. In this way the evangelist can speak at two levels: (i) the pre-Easter sending of the apostles and (ii) the post-Easter context of the community for which he wrote. In Mark, this passage opens a new section the Gospel which will run from Mark 6:6b to 8:21.


Kind of writing

This passage really begins in v. 6b, one of the more brief summaries of Jesus’ activities in Mark. On foot of the summary, Mark introduces the third narrative of call and commission. At the centre of the story, lies a conviction that just as Jesus lived an itinerant and precarious life-style, so too the disciples. Again, just like Jesus, they are to confront evil and call their hearers to conversion of heart. This costly patterning of the disciples on the master will be explored more deeply in Mark 8-10.


Old Testament background

On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness. (Deut 17:6)

A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offence that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained. (Deut 19:15)


New Testament Foreground

See also: Mk 1:16-20; 3:13-19.

The sending out of the twelve has a long echo in the first part of Mark’s narrative when it comes to the teaching on discipleship.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:33-37)

So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognise as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)


St Paul

Ironic and yet utterly in earnest, Paul writes:

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honour, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day. (1 Corinthians 4:8-13)


Brief Commentary

Verse 7 The background to this story starts in the earlier call of the first disciples in Mark 1:16-21 and continues in the sending out in Mark 3:3-19. The specific instructions here are an empowerment to share in the ministry of Jesus himself and to do the things which he was doing. They participate in his authority in word and in power. Two by two—as mutual support. The unclean spirits represent the world of evil which is in opposition to the salvation offered in Jesus. The spirits have a relatively high profile in Mark. The Greek verb “to send” is apostellō from which we get our word apostle.

Verse 8 Mark permits a walking stick in v. 8. Contemporary readers would see here some similarity with Cynic philosophers, who were allowed to carry bread and a staff. A key word in Mark is “the way”. Depending on the context, it is variously translated—here for instance by “journey.” It can mean simply a road or path (2:23; 4:4, 15; 10:46; 11:8). However, Mark often has in mind the deeper meaning of the Christian Way, as here and in Mark 1:2–3; 6:8; 8:3, 27; 9:33–34; 10:17, 32, 52; 12:14. Compare the early Christian usage in Acts: Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1–2)

Verse 9 Sandals are permitted in v. 9. Both a staff and sandals are forbidden in the corresponding stories in Matthew and Luke. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. (Matt 10:9–11) Mark may well be creating a contrast with popular preachers of Cynic philosophers. They went totally barefoot.

On the other hand, Mark contains no prohibition on entering non-Jewish territory – a signal perhaps that even Mark is updated to take account of different conditions outside of Palestine. A real dependence on God remains a requirement as we see in Mark 6:35-44 and 8:1-9.

Verse 10 Remaining in the same house seems strange—there is not yet any evidence of the contrary, unless it reflects later missionary abuse when those sent chose better lodgings when they could. Something of the sort is behind the text from the Didache, a first-century Christian document, which reads:

Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord. But he is not to stay for more than one day, unless there is need, in which case he may stay another. But if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle leaves, he is to take nothing except bread until he finds his next night’s lodging. But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet. (Did 11:3-6)

Verse 11 This is a prophetic gesture and reflects the later church mission (the Twelve meet no opposition in Mark’s narrative). The meaning is not altogether clear, but it may have something to do with the practice of Jews on crossing into the Holy Land, who would take the trouble to shake Gentile dust from their feet. Compare Acts 13:51 and 18:6.

Verse 12 “Proclaimed” = effective proclamation. Repent = conversion, in the sense of a change of world-view. As always, it means much more than sorrow for past sin etc. It is a reorienting of your life in view of the coming kingdom of God. Cf. Mk 1:14-15. Notice that within the ministry, the Twelve proclaim God and his kingdom, whereas in the post-Easter context, they will proclaim Jesus.

Verse 13 In this way, the disciples share in the ministry of Jesus. The detail of anointing with oil, not typical of Jesus, may reflect early Church practice. It was a common remedy in the society of the time.


Pointers for prayer

1. Jesus gave the disciples a share in his mission by sending them out ahead of him. It was a gesture of trust and confidence on his part, even though they did not fully understand his mission. Have you ever been surprised by the trust shown to you by others to speak or act on their behalf?

2. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. Perhaps your experience gives you examples of the value of having another with you when engaged in an important task.

3. The instructions given by Jesus may seem strange. They were intended to counteract practices by bogus preachers who used preaching as a mask for moneymaking. The disciples of Jesus were to focus on the mission given to them, not on their own comforts. Is it your experience that vested interests can impede a task, whereas having the right motives makes your mission more effective?

4. The task of the disciples was to call people to repent, (metanoia = conversion, change the way we look at God and at other people). The core of the mission of Jesus was to change the attitude of people towards God from fear to trust. He also wanted people to see that life was a gift from God who loved them and wanted them to live it in all its fullness and abundance, despite its difficulties. Who have been the disciples, the people in your life who have called you to be more trusting in God? To whom have you given this call?


Prayer

God of justice, God of salvation, from every land you call a people to yourself. Yours in the work we do, yours the message we carry.

Keep your Church single-minded and faithful to you. Let failure not discourage us nor success beguile our hearts, as you send us to proclaim the gospel.

We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.


Thought for the day and prayer

The handing on of the faith—evangelisation to use a technical term—is the task of everyone in the church today: family members, catechists, pastoral workers, the ordained. It is our great challenge and the one thing necessary. And yet, who dares today to take up such a role? Our Gospel portrays key dimensions: the sense of being sent or called, the choice of life-style based on that of Jesus, the confidence to face not being made welcome and yet to continue for the sake of the joy of the Gospel.

Prayer
God of the Good News, you spoke your word and disclosed your heart in Jesus of Nazareth. Help us who are called to take to heart the word of truth, the Gospel of salvation. May we know the action of the Spirit, and so inspired may we inspire others as well