Mark again uses his favorite technique of sandwiching one story between two bits of another story (6:6b-32). The story of the disciples’ first ‘solo’ mission and their return to Jesus with their stories about it form the two ends around the story of John’s beheading.
Prepare to listen. Sit still, take a few deep breaths then pray: Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4)
Read Mark 6:6b-13
Then he 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.
For their first ‘solo’ mission Jesus commanded his disciples, ‘take nothing for the journey except a staff.’ Two other items were permitted—sandals and a single tunic. As N. T. Wright observes, “These are emergency instructions for a swift and dangerous mission” (Mark for Everyone, 2004, p. 68). The urgency was the necessity to proclaim the kingdom and the danger was already present—Jesus was unpopular with the powers, both religious and political. He’d already been rejected in his hometown; Jerusalem scribes had already accused him of being demon possessed (Mk 3:22). There was no time for his disciples’ preparation. But, is that all Mark intends us to get from these in instructions? And, are they still valid for Jesus’ disciples today?
Periodically in the history of the church, someone has attempted to take these instructions literally, thinking they were meant for all disciples of Jesus. But this isn’t really the point. These were instructions for then and not “for the continuing life of the church after Easter” (Wright, Simply Jesus, 2004, p. 68). Does this mean we can dismiss this episode as irrelevant and outdated? I don’t think so. Nothing in Scripture was intended for only one group of people at one time in history therefore, everything still has a relevant, albeit not literal, message for us today.
We can understand the relevancy to us today when we reflect on an ancient story with similarities to Jesus’ instructions. The story of Israel’s redemption from Egyptian is the story I mean. Their redemption from Egyptian slavery and oppression to the freedom to worship Yahweh their God, is an illustration of the redemption Jesus came to provide—freedom from slavery to sin; freedom to worship of God. This is what we experience in the redemption Jesus made possible for us today. On the eve of that Israel’s exodus, Moses gave strict instructions about how to eat the first ever Passover meal. They were ‘emergency instructions’ for a quick get-away from Egypt; they included similar items to the ones Jesus permitted his disciples to take. Moses commanded, ‘This is how you shall eat [Passover]: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand’ (Exodus 12:11). ‘Loins girded’ refers to clothing (tunic) that was tied up with a belt to help the person move more freely and quickly.
The mission of the disciples is the same as ours today—to proclaim the kingdom of God, the message of redemption to set people free to worship God. It’s an urgent mission, hence the command, ‘Take nothing for the journey.’ The journey is, as part of God’s ‘ground force,’ to prepare the way for Jesus’ return and the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. As you journey, leave behind all that hinders you in this mission; take only what is necessary.
What baggage do you think you need to leave behind and what do you hear Christ calling you to take with you as you journey to prepare the way for Jesus’ return?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Jesus, you are enough for me; all I need. Help me journey with total trust in you, living consistently according to your Way and not my own interpretations. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world, taking nothing for the journey.