My Dear People,
Even though the initial phase of training of the Twelve is not complete, they are ready to participate actively in the mission of Jesus—to become fishers of men. The first task for the apostles is: “to be with Him” (3:14); the second is to be “sent out” (apostellò from which “apostle” is derived) and carry out the same works Jesus Himself has been doing. They have “been with” Jesus for some time and have witnessed His serene response to opposition, His teaching in parables (4:1-34), and His prodigious miracles (4:35-5:43). At this point they must have trembled at the tall order given to them: “to do the same mighty deeds”.
When Jesus began to send them out, it is suggested that He did not send out all twelve at once, but took time with each pair, ensuring that each was fully prepared and had confidence to begin their mission.
They were not to go alone, but, two by two, as little units of the Christian community. Their mission was to gather God’s people into a new community centered on Jesus. The Church’s experience over the ages has confirmed the wisdom of this approach (see Acts. 13:1, 15:39-40). A lone missionary is at risk of discouragement, danger, and temptation, but a pair of missionaries can pray together, encourage and support each other, correct each other’s mistakes, and discern how to deal with problems together. Moreover, in the law of Moses, the testimony of two witnesses is necessary to sustain a criminal charge (Num. 35:30; Deut 19:15).
Also, there is a strong emphasis on their task of expelling unclean spirits (3:15)— the only task mentioned here, suggesting that it sums up their whole ministry. They are granted a share in Jesus’ divine authority so as to advance His conquest of the realm of evil. How much more relevant the testimony of the Gospel is when eternal life is at stake. (Mark 6:11).
Jesus’ instructions regarding their traveling gear may strike us as rather austere. The apostles are to take nothing with them other than clothing on their backs, sandals on their feet, and a walking stick. A stick, or staff, is a biblical symbol for authority (Exod. 4:20; Mic. 7:14). The lack of a sack meant they could not carry or even accept provisions from others for the journey. Why is this poverty so important to their mission? Mark does not explain, but several reasons can be surmised. First, the apostles had to learn not to rely on their own resources but on God’s all-sufficient providence (see 2 Cor 9: 8-10; Phil 4:11-13). Because they were occupying themselves with God’s work, God could occupy Himself with their daily needs. Their bare simplicity of life would help them stay free of distractions and focus wholly on their mission. Moreover, their need for food and shelter would call forth hospitality from those to whom they ministered, an important principle of early Church life (see Acts 16:15; Rom 12:13; 3 John 5-8). Finally, their lack of material possessions lent credibility to their message, since it demonstrated that they were preaching the gospel out of conviction rather than desire for gain. Peter was later able to say to the cripple at the temple gate, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean [rise and] walk” (Acts 3:6).
In the Jewish tradition of hospitality, travelers were welcomed spontaneously into homes along their way, especially since not every village boasted an inn. Jesus instructs the Twelve to stay in whatever house they enter, not moving about from house to house. The reason may be to avoid any rivalry or jockeying for prestige that might arise among villagers wishing to host them. Nor may the apostles upgrade their accommodations. Like Jesus, they were likely to be besieged by crowds once they began the ministry of healing and exorcism in a given town. Staying in one place would limit unnecessary instructions.
To shake the dust off one’s feet was a symbolic gesture of repudiation (Acts 13:51), meant as a solemn warning to those who rejected the apostles’ message. To the Jews, the soil of Israel was holy (see 2 Kings 5:17; Isa. 52:2). Upon reentering a home after a journey they would shake the pagan dust off their feet as a sign of separating themselves from Gentile ways.
This gesture would serve as a testimony against such unreceptive villagers on the day of judgment. The stakes involved in accepting or refusing the gospel are high. Jesus equates the response given to his apostles with a response to Himself (see 9:37). To welcome them is to welcome Him. And to refuse to listen is to forfeit His invitation to eternal life (see 8:38; 16:16; John 3:18).
It is a reminder also to the apostles not to be discouraged by the resistance they will sometimes encounter. Their job is to carry out their mission obediently. Success is in the hands of God. No one can be compelled to accept their message.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente