This coming Sunday is the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Year B. The gospel for the day comes from Mark 6 and narrates the beginning of mission for the disciples.
Rejected by his own family and home crowd, Jesus preaches elsewhere and sends his twelve disciples out with special instructions and powers. It is good to remember that the apostles are not sent out as a reaction to the rejection. The mission of the apostles is part of a larger plan. First, Jesus had call them personally (1:16–20). Then he selected twelve special ones to accompany him (3:13–19). The Twelve, tutored by Jesus and present with him as he healed many from sickness and evil (chapters. 3–5), are now ready to become apostles, in Greek, literally the “ones sent out.”
It is also important to remember who is being sent. They were not extraordinary men with easy access to the corridors of power or privilege. They were fishermen and a tax collector. Their preparation was not extensive – they were no scribes or scholars. They had not always been exemplars of faith. One need only to recall the episode of the storm at sea when Jesus spoke to the disciples: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (4:40). These are the ones chosen and sent. If that’s what Jesus’ requires, most of us are well qualified. The power to do mission and the miraculous doesn’t necessarily depend upon the faith of the messenger, but the authority/power (exousia) given by Jesus.
Provisions for the Journey. 8 He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. 9 They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.
A collection of instructions to govern the conduct of these traveling missionaries forms the central section of this pericope (vv. 8–11). The variant readings in Matt 10:8–14; Luke 9:3–6; 10:2–12 contain even more radical conditions, not allowing the second tunic or sandals. Why the variant in the missionary commands? Some scholars offer that Mark is reporting early Christian missionary practice, more akin to the later mission instructions in Luke 23:35-36 instructions in which missioners are sent into the world with baggage, gold and sword – and given the context, sandals and a second tunic/cloak.
The tradition carried in Matthew and the early chapters of Luke might well be a means to distinguish the missioners from other wandering preachers of the day. The Cynics were noted for carrying a bag and a staff; the staff was sometimes used against the audience as well as against animals. The Cynics challenged the presumptions of culture by claiming that it created unnatural needs and passions.
Another thread of thought is that not allowing the second tunic or sandals (Matthew and early Luke), emphasized the urgency of eschatological judgment. Such judgment can be seen in Luke’s gospel where the towns that reject the message can expect to experience God’s wrath (Luke 10:11–12). Mark’s “testimony against them” (v. 11) suggests condemnation in the judgment given the context of preaching repentance (v.12). In any case eschatological judgment is elsewhere evident in Mark (e.g. Mark 11).
Mark’s instructions permit the disciples adequate clothing, but not a second tunic, which would have provided protection from the cold night air. Rather, they are to trust God to provide lodging each night. They are not permitted to carry money or extra provisions from one place to another. The disciples were to depend on local hospitality. Thus it is clear that the disciples are not engaged in preaching and healing in order to make money, which may have subjected them to the charge of being religious charlatans or magicians. Since they were required to remain in the first house that welcomed them (v. 10), they could not move to a household that offered more luxurious accommodations. Mark lacks telling the reason for such hospitality referred to in Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:7 – the laborer deserves his keep/payment.