15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Lectio Divina - Jesus Commissions the Twelve

This reflection was first published on Agapaostore's blog.

Vocation of the Apostles, a fresco in the Sistine Chapel by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1481-82 (Public Domain)

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Mk 6:7-13

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.

MEDITATE

Jesus … began to send them out two by two

When spreading the Faith, it helps to have a partner. In Revelation 11, John writes about “two witnesses” who will be granted the power to prophesy for 1,266 days, clothed in sackcloth (Revelation 11:3). Nothing in Scripture is just a coincidence. The foreshadowing of John’s revelation in Christ’s words here in this Gospel passage has to be intentional. Jesus is bookending the story of evangelization with the custom of going out in twos. Do you feel discouraged by the idea of evangelizing in your parish or some other community like your workplace or family? Consider finding another believer to join you. Jesus doesn’t mean for us to go at it alone.

Jesus … gave them authority over unclean spirits

Speaking with authority about the Faith today is often frowned upon. We are encouraged to say things like “This is how I feel about this Scripture verse” or, “This is what it means to me.” We should speak with power about the truths God reveals to us in Scripture though. This does not mean we have the same authority as priests or religious. It doesn’t mean we believe God is giving us a personal revelation or apparition. But Christ does give us the power and commissions us to spread to gospel everywhere. He tells his disciples, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samar′ia and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). When he preached in the synagogues, he had no official status among the scribes and rabbis, but he preached “as one who had authority” (Matthew 7:29), and because he did people listened.

take nothing for the journey but a walking stick

Simplicity and poverty are key themes in Jesus’ message. There’s no need to complicate the preaching of the kingdom of God. We find the kingdom of God within us not by adding anything, but by stripping away the influences the world, the flesh, and the devil have on us. Faith is not about building up a fortress to keep the world out, or a tower to reach heaven. It’s about shedding the doubts, fears, and worries that burden our hearts and souls.

shake the dust off your feet

Once I was helping out a group home and formed a special bond with the people who ran the place. We cooked and ate dinner together, read the Bible together, and supported each other in faith and fellowship. They welcomed me, but one time when I left, I wiped my feet on the rug before leaving, just as Jesus describes here. I don’t know why I did it. It was almost just an unintentional reflex, and right after doing it I said I was sorry. But to this day whenever I read that verse, I think of that action and still wonder what possessed me to do it. They were good people. They were even God-loving. The circumstances and underlying reasons still haunt me to this day. The fellowship with that group home never did last, and I wonder if that simple incident was part of the reason. What, if anything, am I to learn about myself and this verse, and their relation to that moment? Am I just reading into it too much?

One of my visits to the group home involved a gathering of volunteers who were helping out to gain extra credit for one of their school programs. That never sat well with me. It’s a practical commitment for students to make and it looks good on college applications and resumes, but I could tell their hearts weren’t in it. I have judged others for similar reasons, when I see them performing acts of charity but completely leaving Christ out of it. That’s not the gospel, I say. It irks me even more when the person claims to be Christian and makes no mention of Christ as they work for the charity. I think that, and similar situations where people do charity for the wrong reasons, was hanging out in my subconscious the day I “shook the dust off” my feet. I now notice how cynical I was. There is still a measure of grace in acts of charity that do not directly mention Christ. I can still be grateful for their charity even though they are not doing it in his name. I now notice that Christ gave me knowledge of the gospel not to criticize those who seem to leave him out of their acts of charity, thereby missing their chance to spread the good news. But rather, Christ put the gospel on my heart so that I can show them through my own words and deeds, the benefits that will come to them and to everyone around them, when they spread the gospel as well. If they reject me after saying as much, then Jesus says to shake the dust off my feet when I leave.

This is not an act of spite though. Instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinner are spiritual works of mercy. If or when they are open to God’s grace, they will see how that firm stance by what I preached resonates with truth. If Christ’s witnesses did not shake the dust off their feet after leaving a place that rejected them, or did not make any testimony against them, the people who rejected the gospel may think it’s just fine to reject it. This is not charitable and helps no one. Jesus is clear: “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33). Those who reject the gospel, when it’s given to them properly in love, need to be admonished in some way. This extinguishes any ambiguity in the gospel. G.K. Chesterton said, “Evil always takes advantage of ambiguity.” Jesus, in contrast, sends a clear message; and clarity is charity because the truth is clear. Lies are ambiguous.

they went off and preached repentance

The tough teachings of the gospel just keep coming, contradicting the softened message we hear so often in churches today. When was the last time you heard that the gospel is about preaching repentance? From experience, I can tell you I don’t hear it from church pulpits too often these days. Maybe it is easier to speak about repentance from a desk and type out the message on a laptop than it is to preach it to a crowd of people who are looking right at you, but the message is still clear: Repentance is at the heart of the gospel. He begins his ministry by saying “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The church used to prioritize the sacrament of confession. In fact, some priests used to use counting beads not just to pray Rosaries in the confessional, but also to count the number of people who went to confession so they could then consecrate that many hosts, and only that many hosts, for the upcoming Masses. Times have changed and so have priest’s ways of administering the sacraments, but whatever the case confession should still be prioritized in all Catholic churches. Some parishes have a priest hearing confessions right before and even during Mass. That is really good. Many men think to be a man you have to stand by your principles no matter what. But a real man is able to recognize and admit when he has done wrong, and then kneel before God to repent. That’s not just true for men either. The Virgin Mary is the immaculate example of womanhood, and her greatest shining virtue is humility.

PRAY

Jesus, only by your power can we be forgiven of our sins. Many think the way you walked on water, cured the sick, and rose from the dead are among your greatest miracles. But the biggest miracles are when you soften a hardened heart and lead them to repentance. Thank you for teaching us the importance of confession. Give us the courage to share this gospel message with others, knowing that with repentance comes the kingdom of God in our hearts and in the world. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

LISTEN

Jesus speaks through his word, through life itself--encounters with others and “God-incidences”--and through prayer. Listen now as he opens his Sacred Heart up to you. Prayer is our sanctuary away from the sanctuary, but prayer is pointless if we forget to do the listening for God part.