He 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 from there. 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. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
This is a very common scripture to many Catholics and non-catholics alike. So common that we all probably are certain we know what it means and what we should learn from it. We’re so certain that we’ve probably become lazy and no longer have ears to hear or eyes to see (Ez 12:2, Matt 8:18, Matt 13:15-16) I just heard a homily this weekend that got me to thinking and challenging my own certainty about my understanding of Mark 6:7-13
Mark 6:7-9 lays out conditions the disciples must follow as they are sent out by Jesus on their first missionary trips alone. Haven’t you ever wondered why these rules were applied by Jesus? Can you imagine the discussion? Well lets. First, he says not to take anything but a walking stick. Having read other such discussions between the disciples and Jesus you know what to expect as a response…what about this, what about that. They are focused, as usual, on the physical issues of life. Well, why shouldn’t they? Isn’t it the same thing you think about each time you’re called to serve Christ? Here I believe is our first challenge. Is this a scripture intended to teach us about our lifestyle as a true disciple of Christ? Is it only commenting on our attitudes toward things or how to walk this life with a lite load? It seems like there is more here than that and the next section may have a clue.
Mark 6:10-11 seems to bring focus to the previous section. You may say, “how does what you take with you relate to entering a home”. It was a common practice for those entering the temple in Jerusalem to leave their possessions at the gate. Maybe they took a staff to help them walk or lean on when praying but they didn’t walk around inside the temple with their packs on their backs. Is this the deeper message of this section? That we should treat our daily lives as if we’re walking into God’s temple, into God’s presence? Would the Jewish disciples who went to temple and synagogue daily understood the similarity? Do we recognize and respond to the awareness of God’s presence with us daily? If so, how? What is different about you that expresses your awareness of the mighty and holy presence of God?
I have also often read “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” in Mark 6:11 with the attitude of an executioner. A final blow and verdict against the stiff-necked neighbor. A statement of anger in retaliation against the one who is rejecting me (but might not be rejecting God). Let’s apply the same type of contextual understanding as we did above. In this time it was tradition and customary for the home owner, both from politeness and hygiene, to have the feet of a visitor washed when they enter their home. You received the visitor as a gift and made a fuss over them to express the value to you of their visit. You showed respect. It makes sense that if they could shake the dust off their feet that they were not welcomed in the home. Here is were I want to suggest that this is more about the shame the home owner would experience then the condemnation expressed by the visitor. Even Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisee for not washing his feet in Luke 7:44-47. He simply pointed out the lack of their love. He judged rightly the situation but didn’t speak final condemnation.
What I think we see here is a call to judgement but not condemnation, to be a judge based on God’s truth but not to become the executioner. Here is a Native American story that may exemplify the choice we have to make when challenged:
An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, “Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die.
“I have struggled with these feelings many times,” he continued. “It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.
“But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.
“Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”
The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”
Now we know who the wolf really is and we know who we fight and who fights for us. Let us always remember that wherever we go God’s Holy Spirit is in us and in our midst. Do we treat those around us as gifts from God and see them as His creations? Do we answer the call to judge rightly or shy away into relativism? And in our judgement is our heart one of care or one of condemnation. Which wolf are we feeding? Which master are we serving?
- Romans 12:11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
- Deuteronomy 13:4 It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.
- Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
- 1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
- Joshua 22:5 But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”
- 1 Samuel 12:24 But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.
- Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
- 1 Chronicles 28:9 “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.
- Malachi 3:18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
- Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
- Luke 22:26-27 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
- John 12:26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
- Romans 7:6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
- Hebrews 9:14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
- 1 Peter 4:11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.