He Sent Them Out, Two By Two

Ordinary 15B

Mark 6: 6b 13


Our reflections, to date, of St. Mark have focussed on Jesus among his disciples as they are taken through their early formation. Last week, in Mark 6: 1 — 6, was a transition phase. The mission of the twelve now begins a major focus on Jesus as he manifests himself not just for the disciples but to a wider circle of people.

We have opted to start our meditation with the second part of verse 6. Walter Wessel holds that if we were to place verse 6b with verses 1 — 6, this would indicate that, as a result of his rejection at Nazareth, Jesus decided to inaugurate a village ministry. Our choice of linking it with verses 7 — 13 is intended to emphasise that, as a result of his village ministry, he decided to send out the twelve and so spread the effects of his own ministry through them.

Recall that in verses 1 — 6 our Lord was in Nazareth, the place of his youth and young adulthood, where he declared that a prophet is honoured anywhere except in his own town. So he wandered from village to village, teaching. Up to this point Jesus had chosen his twelve, and they had been with him, shared his experiences, been privately instructed, and exposed to Jesus' power over demons, sickness and death. A new stage begins and we see it unfold in three phases:

  • Commission - verse 7
  • Instructions - verses 8 — 11
  • Action - verses 12 and 13

Some Notes On the Text

Verses 6b and 7

Our text opens with the second part of verse 6:

And he made a circuit of the villages, teaching.

And he summoned the Twelve and began to send them forth two by two; and he gave them power over the unclean spirits.

It is clear from this opening, that the charge to his disciples to go as emissaries is a solemn one (G.S.Sloyan). It is equally clear that they were ready for his call, and to receive some initial responsibility.

Our Lord gives these disciples authority: i.e. he delegates to them responsibility to exorcise. He does not instruct them to teach but, as we shall see, rather to proclaim the need for repentance. Thus all that they were to do would be an extension of his own ministry. We know from Jewish custom that, the one who sent is as the one who commissions them.

Nowhere are the disciples of Jesus dispatched alone. They are sent off in pairs as Mosaic Law required (Deut. 19: 15 and 17: 6) for purposes of fellowship and witness.

Verses 8 11

Our Lord then gives quite specific instructions about:

  • taking nothing for the journey except a staff, and the clothing they are wearing;
  • accepting hospitality and not staying on the lookout for "a better offer";
  • expecting opposition, and how to address it.

Jesus seems to want to avoid extremes of either slovenliness or extravagance, whilst ensuring they have what is both necessary and practical for the work. Josephus (Jewish Historian) tells us, in every Jewish city a welfare worker provided food and clothing, for wanderers must not be forgotten.

Nevertheless, since they were to be doing the work of Jesus, they were to rely on God and practise the poverty of Jesus. Sloyan tells us that the ideal of chosen poverty was a new one to the Jews. It was more with Greek culture in mind that they thought of the wandering philosopher who had no possessions.

Verses 12 and 13

And, going forth, they preached that men should repent, and they cast out many devils and anointed with oil many sick people, and healed them.

In this Gospel, proclaiming the Kingdom of God is the work of Jesus. The disciples, certainly at this point, are not quite ready for that; yet they are still participating in the mission of Jesus.

Conclusion: Some Reflections

First, when the disciples were sent out, they were not appointed to a permanent office, but rather to a specific task. Therefore, our Lord's instructions to them do not have general and permanent validity. They are relevant for this particular commission. In seeking guidance for our own Christian service we should:

  • take sufficient for our needs,
  • be practical and realistic,
  • be trusting.

Secondly, their coming to a village brought healing and enlightenment, because they were his representatives. As he was commissioned and empowered by God to teach and act, so He commissioned and empowered them. This holds true for us. We form an organic extension of his mission.

Thirdly, the disciples went out and preached repentance in pairs. Remember, two is a community! To repent in Biblical terms means to perceive afterwards; to change one's mind and purpose. It denotes a change of moral thought and reflection. One repents, not just to forsake sin, but to change one's mind and apprehensions regarding it. (Bullinger).

This has been a very short reading for our meditation. The incident is simple and straightforward, allowing the Lord to achieve a strong emphasis on his key theme of repentance.

The message for our times lies in this core material: we need to make a radical change in the way we view goodness and sin. The disciples were to lead people to want to turn towards God as a result of the new understanding they imparted to the people about God. We need to examine our own attitude towards genuine Biblical repentance and follow our Lord's model, in this regard, as we pass on the Faith. This means very focussed reflection and meditation on Jesus and his teaching by word and example.

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