He Sent Them Out, Two By Two
Ordinary 15 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
Mark 6: 6b — 13
Our reflections, on St. Mark’s Gospel have, to date, focussed on Jesus among His disciples as they are taken through their early formation. The previous reading of Mark 6: 1 — 6, was a transition phase. The mission of the twelve now begins a major focus on Jesus as He manifests Himself not just for the disciples but to a wider circle of people. Let’s keep our focus on the Lord and how He carries out His mission through others.
We have opted to start our meditation with the second part of verse 6. Walter Wessel holds that if we were to place verse 6b with verses 1 — 6, this would indicate that, as a result of his rejection at Nazareth, Jesus decided to inaugurate a village ministry. Our choice of linking it with verses 7 — 13 is intended to emphasise that, as a result of his village ministry, He decided to send out the twelve and so spread the effects of His own ministry through them. Recall that in verses 1 — 6 our Lord was in Nazareth, the place of His youth and young adulthood, where He declared that a prophet is honoured anywhere except in his own town. So He wandered from village to village, teaching. Up to this point Jesus had chosen His twelve, and they had been with Him, shared His experiences, been privately instructed, and exposed to His awesome power over demons, sickness and death. A new stage begins and we see it unfold in three phases:
• Verse 7: appointing disciples to a specific task
• Verses 8 — 11: outlining key instructions.
• Verses 12 and 13: the actions of the disciples.
Some Reflections on the Text
Verses 6b and 7
Our text opens with the second part of verse 6:
He went around to the villages in the vicinity teaching.
He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out
two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
It is clear from this opening, that the charge by our Lord to His disciples to go as His emissaries is a solemn one (G.S.Sloyan). It is equally clear that they were ready for His call, and to receive some initial responsibility. All sorts of speculations are drawn from this passage. We need to remember that it was an early stage in their training. They were to learn through practice, what it is to represent Jesus and act on His behalf, and to demonstrate loving care and concern for those in special need. They were to be seen as exercising His authority over unclean spirits — keeping the focus on His concern for the people. They were not to use their authority to draw attention to themselves or to their apparent ability and authority in the spiritual realm.
Most importantly they were to see themselves as bearers of “good news” (Stock) as we shall see in the next few verses.
Having said all that, we should note our Lord gives His disciples very sublime authority: i.e. He delegates to them responsibility to exorcise, to use the technical term. Strictly speaking, He does not instruct them to teach but, as we shall see, rather to proclaim the need for cleansing and repentance. It is helpful to remember that this call for repentance was not a moral burden thrust at people to weigh them down. Quite the opposite: it was a message of relief — in fact, of release. That really was (and still is) “good news”.
We know from Jewish custom that, the one who is sent is as the one who commissions them. All that they were to do would be an extension of His own ministry. We should also note that nowhere are the disciples of Jesus dispatched alone. They are sent off in pairs as Mosaic Law required (Deut. 19: 15 and 17: 6) for purposes of fellowship and witness.
Verses 8 — 11
Our Lord then gives some quite specific instructions:
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but
a walking stick — no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.
He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay
there until you leave from there.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony
Jesus seems to want to avoid extremes of either slovenliness or extravagance, whilst ensuring they have what is both necessary and practical for the work. Sandals enabled them to go further — to reach out into the surrounding countryside more deeply, to include the distant and less visited places. Josephus (Jewish Historian) tells us, “The fact that in every Jewish city a welfare worker provided food and clothing, for wanderers must not be forgotten.”
Nevertheless, since they were to be doing the work of Jesus, they were to rely on God and practise the poverty of Jesus. Sloyan believes that the ideal of chosen poverty was a new one to the Jews; and that it was more with Greek culture in mind that some thought of Jesus as a wandering philosopher who had no possessions. As we move through St. Mark’s Gospel over the next 15 to 20 readings, we will be able to assess the validity of this opinion.
The early Christian soon came to link our Lord’s reference to “sandals” with the prophecy of Isaiah pointing to the redeemer promised in Genesis 3: 16.
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who
brings glad tidings, Announcing peace, bearing good news,
announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, “Your God is King!”
The Messiah has arrived and has opened His mission:
“The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
The disciples were not quite saying it in these words, but it would not be long before they are fully inducted and broaden their long-awaited message.
In verses 10 and 11, Jesus emphasises the need for His disciples to be grateful for the hospitality they are offered, and not to roam around in search of “a better offer”.
Whenever they are rejected or ignored, they are, literally, to shake the dust of that place off their feet and leave the people to take responsibility for their own future. In other words, they are to let the people be the authors of their own fate if they reject the word of Jesus Messiah.
Verses 12 and 13
So they went off and preached repentance.
They drove out many demons, and they anointed with
oil many who were sick and cured them.
In this Gospel, proclaiming the Kingdom of God is the work of Jesus. The disciples, certainly at this point, are not quite ready for that; yet they are still participating in the personal mission of Jesus. In doing so, they reiterate the opening call for repentance by Jesus at the beginning of His ministry (Mark 1: 15). This was, of course, in line with John the Baptist’s opening words (Mark 1: 1 — 4). Thus the disciples sent out by our Lord are to be seen as a true part of the fulfilment of prophecy and the unfolding plan of God’s mercy and lovingkindness. That unfolding continues as we take up the cause with the same urgency and uncluttered focus. It is good for us to realise that we are part of that vast plan of God. It is called, “Salvation History” — which simply means all the steps along the way which led to the coming of the Saviour and His trust in us to keep His mission going until He returns. It is indeed a great honour to be part of this wonderful fulfilment.
We close with a few observations to support our meditation on the Gospel text.
First, when the disciples were sent out, they were not appointed to a permanent office, but rather to a specific task (Lane). Therefore, our Lord’s instructions to them do not have general and permanent validity. They are relevant for this particular commission. In seeking guidance for our own Christian service we should:
• take or provide sufficient for our needs, but not be weighed
down with superfluous goods;
• be practical and realistic;
• be trusting, with a strong sense of faith in our Lord and what He
calls us to perform.
Secondly, the coming of the disciples to a village brought healing and enlightenment, because they were our Lord’s representatives. As He was commissioned and empowered by God to teach and act, so Jesus commissioned and empowered them. This holds true for us. We form an organic extension of His mission. What does this mean in practice? Before all else it requires we keep truly focussed on Jesus and the privilege of being tasked with spreading His message and blessings.
Thirdly, the disciples went out and preached repentance in pairs. Remember, two is a community! To repent in Biblical terms means literally, to perceive afterwards; to change one’s mind and purpose having come to one’s senses. It denotes a change of moral thought and reflection. One repents, not just to forsake sin, but to change one’s mind and attitude regarding it. (Bullinger).
This has been a very short reading for our meditation. The incident is simple and straightforward, allowing the Lord to achieve a strong emphasis on His key theme of repentance delivered in straightforward uncomplicated missionary service.
The message for our times lies in this core material: we need to make very well considered and deliberate choices in the way we view goodness and sin especially in terms of observing the Commandments and purifying our way of life. We would benefit from examining our own attitude towards genuine Biblical repentance and following our Lord’s model, in this regard, as we pass on the Faith. This means very focussed reflection and meditation on Jesus and His teaching by word and example.
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“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so, remain
He Sent Them Out, Two By Two
Ordinary 15 Year B St. Mark 6: 6b — 13
1. The early Hebrew Christians were gripped by the awesomeness of the whole prophetic fulfilment unfolding before their eyes. The One promised by God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3: 16) they understood to have been later prophesied in Isaiah 52: 7. and who arrived in the person of the Messiah.
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who
Even further, they had learnt that Jesus appointed disciples to carry on His work, and in turn, appoint others down through the ages, to prolong His ministry of seeking out the lost, deprived, neglected and needy.
There is no break in this on-going outreach of the Saviour to bring back all those given to Him by the Father. It is exciting to see ourselves in this vast outworking of prophecy and promise. But, as becomes very clear in reading the Gospel accounts, if we see ourselves as part of our Lord’s outreach, that vocation must remain central, i.e. retain a place of priority in our lives at all times. This admonition of the Lord is not to frighten or oppress us, but is to give us confidence and strength to live an appropriate life-style in harmony with our calling. This way of life will be marked by disciplined prayer, study, meditation and worship. That is the path of the disciple of the Lord. That is the path appointed by God Himself in the most compelling of all the Commandments:
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
Jesus followed the rabbis of His time by attaching another of His Father’s Commandments:
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
The disciples of Jesus desire constantly to show love for their neighbour by sharing everything they can of their treasured faith.
2. On reading this passage, we could easily find it rather impersonal and remote in its stark content. But this is a good little example of a Hebrew rabbi’s stamp of urgency on what is said. There is to be a dignity in simplicity, and there is to be much power evident in God’s promises being fulfilled — but there is to be no fuss nor focus on what the disciples are seen to be achieving: only the recognition of awesome presence of God at work among those willing to listen and respond generously.
3. The Apostles “preached repentance”. (Verse 12). We can wonder at how they did this, and wonder equally just how we would be expected to do so! But this was no moralistic pitchforking of people and bullying them with warnings about how they lived. It was the lifting of burdens people carry within them — to let them see and feel their release from all the forms of spiritual captivity from which people suffer regardless of time or culture. We all need this healing and our Lord continues to set it as a high priority in His ministry to the world through His disciples.
Mark 6: 6 — 13
Ordinary 15 Year B
6 He went around to the villages in the vicinity teaching.
7 He summoned the Twelve 6 and began to send them out
8 7 He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but
9 They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.
10 8 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay
11 Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
12 So they went off and preached repentance.
13 9 They drove out many demons, and they anointed with
6 [7-13] The preparation for the mission of the Twelve is seen in the call (1) of the first disciples to be fishers of men (⇒ Mark 1:16-20), (2) then of the Twelve set apart to be with Jesus and to receive authority to preach and expel demons (⇒ Mark 3:13-19). Now they are given the specific mission to exercise that authority in word and power as representatives of Jesus during the time of their formation.
7 [8-9] In Mark the use of a walking stick (⇒ Mark 6:8) and sandals (⇒ Mark 6:9) is permitted, but not in ⇒ Matthew 10:10 nor in ⇒ Luke 10:4. Mark does not mention any prohibition to visit pagan territory and to enter Samaritan towns. These differences indicate a certain adaptation to conditions in and outside of Palestine and suggest in Mark’s account a later activity in the church. For the rest, Jesus required of his apostles a total dependence on God for food and shelter; cf ⇒ Mark 6:35-44; ⇒ 8:1-9.
8 [10-11] Remaining in the same house as a guest (⇒ Mark 6:10) rather than moving to another offering greater comfort avoided any impression of seeking advantage for oneself and prevented dishonor to one’s host. Shaking the dust off one’s feet served as testimony against those who rejected the call to repentance.
9  Anointed with oil . . . cured them: a common medicinal remedy, but seen here as a vehicle of divine power for healing.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised