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Lectio: 15th Sunday of ordinary time (B)

The mission of the twelve

Mark 6:7-13

1. Opening prayer

Father, grant that we may see in Your Son the face of Your love, the Word of salvation and mercy, so that we may follow Him with generous heart and proclaim Him in word and deed to our brothers and sisters who look for the Kingdom and His justice. Pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may listen attentively and that our witness may be authentic and free, even in difficult times and in times when we do not understand. Who lives and reigns forever and ever.

2. Reading

a) The context:

After the calling ("institution" in the text) of the twelve (Mk 3:13-19), Jesus teaches and heals as part of their schooling. Now the time has come for their first public practice: as a first experience, they have to go and proclaim. Two by two, they go among the people with tasks, which in Mark seem to be rather simple: a generic proclamation to conversion and various types of warnings against evil. Jesus does not let the violent refusal of Himself in Nazareth frighten Him, a fact first recalled by Mark: Mk 6:1-6. He does not suspend His mission, because our closed minds cannot block Him.

The other two Synoptic Gospels (Mt 10:1-42; Lk 9:1-10) recount with greater precision the tasks and challenges the twelve will meet. However, in all the Gospels it is important to note that the mission comes from Jesus and only after they have learned from Him the manner and the content. The number "twelve", which is also the number of the tribes of Israel, is so often repeated in connection with the foundation of the new community, even to the glories of the Apocalypse, signifying continuity and the surpassing of the preceding saving economy. The sending "two by two" must be understood according to the Jewish mentality that accepts any witness only if it is brought by a "community" ( a minimum of two) and not by one person. “Two” also appears in other instructions from Jesus (Mt 18:19-20).

b) The text:

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. 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. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

3. A moment of silent prayer

to re-read the text with our heart and to recognize in the words and structure, the presence of the mystery of the living God.

4. Some questions

to see the important points in the text and begin to assimilate them

a) In Mark, why is the driving out of the unclean spirits so important?

b) What is the meaning of this insistence on poverty of means?

c) What is the content of this first proclamation?

d) Why does Jesus place poverty and courage and freedom together?

e) Why does the proclamation have to be itinerant and not stable?

f) What do the other Synoptic Gospels explain better?

5. A deepening of the reading

"He began to send them out two by two"

The mission of the disciples does not come from personal enthusiasm or from a desire for greatness. It begins when Jesus thinks that they are ready to speak, based on what they have heard and assimilated. According to Mark, until then they had seen many miracles and heard some teachings, important among the teachings being the theme of the seed that grows in several ways. They have also witnessed some arguments between Jesus and the leaders.

They were to model themselves on Jesus' practice as healer, His call to conversion, His availability to move among the people, and His itinerant preaching. They are certainly not mature yet. Under Jesus' supervision they will learn and better themselves: they will come up with the right words and the proper gestures. They will experience the enthusiasm that comes from great success, but in the end, they will have to go beyond even their focus on miracles in order to announce the death and resurrection of the Savior.

"He gave them authority over the unclean spirits"

This concerns "exousia" which Jesus practiced too: they are therefore empowered and authorized to use the same power. For Mark, it almost seems that this is the main exercise at this time; in fact, he concentrates on this aspect of Jesus as "thaumaturge" and one who drives out evil spirits.

We need to understand that "unclean spirits" meant many things: mental illnesses, forms of epilepsy, destructive spiritual forces, every form of psychological disorder, physical malfunctions, etc.

Power is exercised in walking among these sufferings, accepting the challenge to faith in God provided by these challenges, accepting to live in solidarity, accepting the dignity of each human being. We must not identify "unclean" with sexual or legal impurity. It is a matter of "purity" as God sees it, that is, love, solidarity, justice, mercy, collaboration, welcoming, etc. That is why the twelve will have to call "to conversion" from these prejudices, perverse and "unclean" forms to live as children of God.


"Nothing for their journey, except a staff…"

Their mission must be an itinerant one, not sedentary; that is, the mission must constantly stimulate the going, new encounters, detachment from results, interior and exterior freedom. Hence the recommendation, found in all the Synoptic Gospels, to practice material poverty in dress and food, in security and guarantees. It was probably also a matter of the shortness of the experience: as a first exercise, it was not supposed to last long, and so, they had to travel light, free, focused more on the importance of the proclamation than on the consolidation of results.

When this text was written, the situation of the community of disciples was a lot more developed and consolidated. Thus, the memory of these recommendations not only served to recall this first joyful and adventurous experience, but also to confront the present style of life and customs with those of the time of Jesus, now so long ago. Thus, the text aims at remembering and at a new missionary impetus, less fearful of the demands of comfort and security.

"When you leave, shake off the dust…"

The Lord's recommendations bring together two aspects, which only appear to be in contradiction. On the one hand, the disciples must be completely available to meet the people, without thinking of gain or survival. They must seek out sick people - that is, those sick for personal or social reasons, from the oppression of the law or from  human evil - and free them, pour the oil of consolation on them, heal their wounds and interior hurts. But, on the other hand, they must also avoid accepting any form of hypocrisy and irresponsible do-gooders.

Besides charity and care for the suffering, they must also have the courage to unmask hypocrisy, react to closed minds and accept personal failure. Where they are not received, they must leave without regrets or weakness. Rejection or hypocrisy render proclamation and witness sterile. He asks for a clear and unequivocal break, a thing that Jesus Himself, perhaps, had not experienced much. He always tried to go back and dialogue. He suffered from the closed minds of the Pharisees and the scribes. He challenged their tenacious and insidious teachings. Yet now He imposes on His disciples the direction not to waste time on those who will not receive them. Probably, in this recommendation there is also an adaptation to the situation of the community: they must not regret the break with the Israelite community. There had been a closed attitude and a ferocious and aggressive refusal: well, Jesus had foreseen this too. There was no need to grieve. They must go to other people and they must not waste time trying to win back what could not be won back.

6. Psalm 85

Prayer for justice and peace

Show us Thy steadfast love,
O Lord, and grant us Thy salvation.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints,
to those who turn to Him in their hearts.
Surely His salvation is at hand for those who fear Him,
that glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss. 
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
Yea, the Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before Him,
and make His footsteps a way.

7. Closing prayer

Lord our God, keep Your Son’s disciples from the easy ways of popularity, of cheap glory, and lead them to the ways of the poor and scourged of the earth, so that they may recognize in their faces the face of the Master and Redeemer. Give them eyes to see possible ways of peace and solidarity; ears to hear the requests for meaning and salvation of so many people who grope in the dark; enrich their hearts with generous fidelity and a sensitiveness and understanding so that they may walk along the way and be true and sincere witnesses to the glory that shines in the crucified resurrected and victorious One. Who lives and reigns gloriously with You, Father, forever and ever. Amen.

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