July 11, 2012
It is striking that Jesus tells the disciples that they are to take only a walking stick in their hand and sandals on their feet as they begin their missionary journey. Jesus specifically tells them not to bring food, money, or a second tunic. These details are an allusion to Exodus 12, where the Israelites are bracing for the Passover. Like the disciples, they are to have sandals on their feet and a staff in their hands, but it is because they are preparing, finally, to leave their captivity in Egypt. In a twist, the Israelites—unlike the disciples—do take food (unleavened bread because they had to leave in haste), as well as money and articles of clothing (both of which are lavished upon them by the Egyptians who are trying to make sure that they do in fact leave Egypt after the destruction of the last plague).
The list of things that the disciples can and cannot bring on their journey becomes relevant as Mark continues his gospel narrative, leading to the multiplication of the loaves and fish at the end of chapter six. The disciples have come back from their journey, flush with the success of their preaching and healing. Jesus urges them to go with him to a quiet place where they will be able to share all the wonderful things that have happened. But, as the boat enters a cove, they see that a large crowd has gathered. Jesus notes that they are like sheep without a shepherd and he begins to teach them—note the need for a staff! But, as it gets late, the disciples want to send the crowd away. For his part, Jesus urges them to give the crowd some food…even though he told them not to bring any food! When they say that it would cost a certain amount to buy food…they remember that he told them not to bring any money! This is tough person to work for!
In fact, this is exactly the point of the story. They had been on mission—a successful one—trusting not in their own resources, but in Jesus. And now, a short time later, they have already forgotten the most important detail of their success: if they have Jesus with them, they will have all that they need. Jesus, of course, is present—he is always present until the end of time—and he feeds the vast crowd to the amazement of the disciples who have forgotten to trust him, especially in their need.
As Resurrectionists, we take a vow of poverty that acknowledges our total dependence on God, rather than on ourselves (Article #21). However, all followers of Jesus are called to find ways to trust in God, resisting the temptation to “build bigger barns” for fear that God will not come through for them. It seems to be a lesson that we all need to keep learning. The disciples certainly needed to learn and re-learn this lesson. In fact, immediately after Jesus feeds the vast crowd, the disciples are in a boat that is about to capsize. As Jesus walks toward them, the disciples are terrified. But, Jesus says, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid” (Mk 6:50). Once again, they are in a tough spot, and once again they have forgotten that if they have Jesus with them, they have all that they need. The evangelist Mark seems to understand this perfectly with his succinct comment that ends the story: “They had not understood the incident of the loaves.” In other words, they still had not understood this important lesson, even though Jesus had just completed this wonderful work of feeding the multitude! It is tough lesson to learn for the disciples and for us. But, Jesus has indeed given us enough for the journey…he has given us himself…and that is all that we need.