July 10, 2018
At the very beginning of his public ministry, Jesus called others to come after him so that he could make them “fishers of men and women” (Mark 1:17). He began to teach them, and sent them out two by two, giving them authority over unclean spirits. Mark’s gospel reports that they enjoyed great success, as the disciples “drove out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mark 6:13).
In his gospel account, Mark intimates that the positive results of the disciples’ ministry came from dependence upon Jesus, not themselves. Notice that the disciples are instructed to take a walking stick and sandals, but nothing else for the journey—no food, no sack, no money in their belts, and no second tunic (Mark 6:8-9). These instructions may seem rather obscure unless we have in mind a passage from the Old Testament, Exodus 12. Here, like Jesus’ disciples, the Israelites also have sandals on their feet and a staff in their hands. They gather on the night that the angel of death will pass over them, for they are about to be freed from their bondage in Egypt and to begin their journey to the Promised Land. The Israelites begin their hurried journey, taking with them the dough before it was leavened and, as they leave Egypt, they “despoil the Egyptians,” taking with them “articles of silver and gold and clothing” (Exod. 12:35). Jesus’ disciples, however, are instructed to take no sack, no money, and no second tunic, for Mark’s gospel suggests that—in contrast to the Israelites in Exodus 12—the ministerial success of Jesus’ disciples will depend—ultimately—upon their ability to rely, not upon themselves and their own gifts, but upon their relationship with Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life. This is a difficult lesson to learn, both for the early disciples of Jesus, and for those who strive to follow him today. We often think that a response to God’s call depends solely upon ourselves, and in this light, become hesitant and reluctant to respond generously.
God wants to use our gifts and talents to further God’s reign. But, this gospel story remind us that even in the face of our inadequacies, we do not have to be afraid, for the God who calls people to serve others is faithful and steadfast in love to those who respond generously. It is this insight that led St. Paul, reflecting upon the love of Christ that had transformed him, to say: “Glory be to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).