In today’s Gospel, Jesus begins to share his mission with his twelve closest followers. Jesus has already chosen them to work with him.
Now he puts them to work, sending them out “two by two” armed with his authority to confront the power of evil. He instructs them to travel light. This means no bread, because food will be provided by others’ hospitality. It means no (sleeping) bag, as lodging will be provided. It means no money, for they will be looked after. They can bring a staff, sandals and a single tunic because they will be continually on the move.
This text reminds us that the earliest Christian missionaries travelled light and set themselves apart from the wandering preachers of other religions, who brought lots of baggage with them. Mark is saying something important as he records these very specific instructions of Jesus. Jesus is on an urgent missionary journey. The staff and the sandals are the symbols of that journey and so these are appropriate for those who share in his mission. Any other baggage, especially that which might weigh them down and slow their progress, is not permitted.
Jesus also instructs them about where they are to stay. The issue here is the integrity of the Gospel. If they arrive in a place and then move from house to house seeking better lodging, nicer food or more friendly company, this would be a counter-witness to the Gospel. If they encounter lack of hospitality they are to move on from the village. This is exactly what Jesus did when he was rejected by the people of his own village of Nazareth. Jesus even tells them to shake the dust of such places from their feet. Jews returning to the Holy Land would perform this ritual as they left pagan territory so as not to import “uncleanness” with them. It symbolised the godlessness of the pagan land and the holiness of Israel. The Twelve, in performing the same gesture, relegate to the godless world those inhospitable places that have rejected the Gospel. In this way the Twelve proclaim the Gospel as Jesus does, with integrity of word and deed.
After receiving their instructions, they set out and their mission is successful. Mark adds some important details. The preaching of the Twelve is so that all should repent, which is the key missionary goal of Jesus. The Twelve also heal sick people, something Jesus has done many times before. Mark adds that they anoint sick people with oil. This was a widespread practice in the Greek world by the time Mark’s Gospel was written and now becomes part of the practice of the Christian Church.
Ironically, the mission of the Twelve is more successful than Jesus’ own mission in Nazareth. Yet the Twelve are missionary only to the extent that they are with Jesus, recognise that his authority has been given to them, and travel light. At all times they remain his followers.
Thank God for missionaries, those who have left home and travelled light, in order to preach the Good News. Pray for those who give of themselves generously for the sake of the Gospel.
We know the value of travelling light. Budget-cost airlines like Ryanair encourage passengers to travel light. There is a penalty for excess luggage. Having one carry-on bag is not only less expensive, it also speeds up your journey. You don’t have to wait at a slow-moving conveyor belt to claim your baggage. Airport security is easier to deal with. Travelling light, if we can, is the wise thing to do.
Today’s Gospel points to something fundamental about the Church: it is most successful when it travels light and discards any baggage which gets in the way of its mission.
Since the time of Jesus there have been periods when the Church has travelled light and has been truly prophetic in proclaiming the Gospel. Think of missionaries who brought the bare necessities with them when going on long journeys to remote places. Think of all those Christians, lay and religious, who have chosen to live simple, frugal lives in order to witness to the Gospel.
There have been other times when, weighed down with wealth, power and a preoccupation with status, the Church has not travelled light and has failed the Gospel. Pope Francis has constantly called on Catholics to live simple lives in order to be a poor Church for those who are poor.
We can only hope that the crisis our Church has been going through in recent years will lead it to discard anything that gets in the way of Jesus’ mission, so that the Gospel may be proclaimed anew with prophetic courage and integrity.
- As followers of Jesus, we all have a mission to preach the Gospel.
- We can preach the Gospel wherever we live and work.
A preoccupation with wealth, status or power gets in the way of the Gospel.
Think about your attitude to material things. How light do you travel?