Gospel: Mark 6:7-13

Missionary Efforts

When you travel, do you intend to escape, or to seek out new things and new people?

People have different reasons for traveling. Some fly for business. Some drive to visit relatives. Some ride in a train to see the sights. In an increasingly mobile world, people travel to seek new opportunities, new relationships, new experiences.

How many of us have had the opportunity to travel for the good of others? To heal broken relationships? To announce good news? Jesus gave his chosen Twelve that opportunity, the possibility to go out for people's ultimate good.

Popular Translation

7 Jesus gathered the Twelve together, began to send them away in pairs, and gave them power over evil. 8-9 "Don't take anything with you on your travels except a walking stick and a pair of sandals," Jesus told them. "You may not take food, a traveling bag, or money. And you may not wear any extra clothes. 10 Wherever you go, stay with one family until you leave for another town. 11 If the people don't treat you like a guest and refuse to listen to you, walk away and shake the dust from your feet to show them how you feel." 12 The Twelve left two-by-two. They preached so others could turn their lives back to God. 13 They threw many demons out of people. And when the sick were anointed with oil by the traveling followers of Jesus, they were healed.

In these exceptional passages, Jesus sent out the Twelve on a missionary journey. Jesus gave these men travel instructions, the command to preach, and spiritual power.

Literal Translation

7 HE summoned the Twelve, began to send them out two by two, and was giving them authority over unclean spirits.

The missionary effort began with the initiative of Jesus. He gathered the Twelve together so he could send them out with spiritual power. In one respect, the journey of the Twelve extended the messianic mission of Jesus. In another respect, the journey change the Twelve into Apostles (the root word for apostle literally means "to send out.") The ministry of the Twelve began with the call of Christ.

8 He commanded them that they would not carry anything on the road, only except a staff, no bread, no bag, no copper in the belt, 9 but having strapped on sandals, you should not wear two tunics. 10 HE said to them, "Wherever you might go, into a house, stay there until you might leave from there. 11 Whatever place might not welcome you and not hear you, walking away, shake off the dust from your feet as a witness against them."

6:8 "bag" was a traveling bag. Without food (i.e., bread) taking this bag would be pointless.

"belt" was a belt for money and personal items (like the modern "fanny-pack").

6:8-9 This construction is confusing. In essence, Jesus told his followers to only carry and wear the necessities (traveling stick for protection and sandals) and trust God for the rest (food, money, and extra clothing).

6:10 "house" refers to an extended family. The traveling apostles should remain with a host family until they moved on.

6:11 "place" could refer to a town or to the town's synagogue. In either case, the apostles that did not receive hospitality and a chance to preach their message were to show disdain. In the time of Jesus, hospitality was highly prized. And a host family claimed the honor of the guests. Meal time for strangers became a social event for the neighborhood, since their news could be heard by all. Those who rejected the visitors showed shameful lack of manners. They were to be treated with hostility, as the socially expected response.

With the call came limits, in the form of travel instructions. As indicated in the translation notes above, these instructions did not reflect anything unusual in first century culture. Traveling away from home (i.e., extended family) was unexpected. (After all, the family supplied all the economic and social support anyone would need.) But that did not stop people from taking to the road.

Travel had its dangers. Provisions were scarce. And the activities of marauding bandits made travel perilous. So, Jesus instructed the Twelve to travel in pairs for safety, and to travel light for endurance (the lighter one traveled, the faster he or she could go). Since many people traveled in large caravans, the missionaries could join these groups and share their provisions. As the notes indicated above, hospitality was a common, honorable virtue that acted as a counterweight to the dangers of travel. Travelers were safe in numbers and safe with a caring host.

From a thematic viewpoint, the travel limits Jesus imposed kept the missionaries focus on serving others, not the self. In serving others, the missionary would depend on the goodwill of others and, ultimately, on the benevolence of God. So, the missionary was to travel in the spirit of dependance. Christ had called him or her, and continued the call. The initiative was Christ's and continued to be his.

12 Leaving, they announced (the Good News) so (others) might repent. 13 They expelled many demons. They anointed with oil many sick people and healed (them).

With the call of Jesus came power. The Twelve preached. In doing so, They exercised power over spirits that possessed and weakened their victims. In the mindset of the ancient world, Jews commonly believed the cosmos contained a hierarchy of beings. The transcendent God sat at the pinnacle of this order. Then, came powerful spiritual beings ("archangels, principalities, and powers"). Third, came lesser spirits (common angels and "unclean spirits"). Fourth, stood humanity. Finally, came plant and animal life. Notice authority delineated this hierarchy of being. The higher level of being had power over the lower forms. So, unclean spirits could possess, weaken, and even kill people. This was the way of existence for the ancient. But, Jesus and his Twelve preached to announce a change in that hierarchy. God would adopt humanity, making its members "sons" and "daughters" of the Father (in doing so, humanity would jump two levels of being above powerful spiritual beings. This was Good News!) Jesus, the very Son of God, gave his Twelve power over a higher level of being ("unclean spirits") as they preached the coming of the Kingdom.

Catechism Theme: The Church's Missionary Efforts (CCC 849-856)

In the spirit of Jesus' mobile ministry, the Church has always reached out to others, tried to meet these people where they lived, and evangelize them. More than simple obedience to Christ's mandate in Matthew 28:19-20, the Church always seeks to share that which gathers it together: the very life and love of the Father poured out in the Son through the power of the Spirit. As members of Christ's body, we share in the Father's love with a life in the Spirit. Like the Church, we, too, seek to share the Father's love, a life in Christ, and the power of the Spirit with others.

Such an effort requires patience, humility, and charity. We must listen, dialogue, and act as instruments for Christ, so the Spirit can act. We can only rely on the power of the Spirit, not political, economic, or social power to evangelize. (That, of course, does not mean we cannot work with these powers to project Christ's message.) But, we must remember the Spirit really evangelizes, not us. God works through us, not because of us.

What have you done to lead others to Christ? How much of your efforts were material (notes, visits, gifts, etc.) and how much were spiritual (prayer)? Have the actions of those you helped to evangelize surprise you? How?

In this summer time of relaxation and leisure travel, let us remember the efforts of those who went before us. Those who evangelized us, our parents, or grandparents. Their travels, their sweat and tears, their example brought others to Christ. Along our travels, let us take time, thank God for the efforts of missionaries past, and seek to do good for others. Let us live in their spirit of self-giving and in the Spirit that moves us all to action.

During this vacation time, how do you intend to spread God's message? Remember to concentrate on the small ways with family and friends this week. The larger opportunities will present themselves in due course.