Following his rejection in Nazareth, Jesus commissions the twelve and sends them out on an extended mission throughout Galilee. They proceed under the authority and power of Jesus, both in word and sign. The disciples are sent as wandering prophets to proclaim the dawning of the last days.
v6b. Following his rejection in Nazareth, Jesus moves throughout Galilee, village to village, on a teaching mission. This is the third time Mark mentions such a mission. Jesus now expands this ministry.
v7. In calling and training his disciples, Jesus has prepared for the day when he will commission them as his representatives ("the sent one is as the man who commissions him", Jewish law). Jesus sent the disciples to proclaim the coming kingdom, both in word and sign. The authority to expel demons is a sign of the greatest significance.
v8-9. Jesus' instructions for the mission are interpreted in various ways. It is often suggested that the requirements were designed to teach the disciples about dependence on God. Yet, it is more likely that they were cultural behavior-codes for wondering teachers / prophets. The disciples went "two by two" (v7) because truth is established "by the mouth of two witnesses", Deut.17:6, while their dress defined their business - they were messengers from God.
v10-11. A village may either accept or reject the prophet and his message. Those who accept, following custom, offer hospitality, while those who reject face the sign of judgement. A Jew leaving Gentile territory would normally dust themselves off, dissociating themselves from the judgement hanging over that land. What we have here is a piece of pointed street-theatre.
v12-13. Mark summarizes the mission in terms of a proclamation by word and sign. The disciples proclaim the coming kingdom in the message of the gospel, and they also proclaim it in the messianic signs of exorcism and healing. Mark summarizes their message as a call for repentance. In the face of the coming kingdom and the judgment it brings, we can only but turn toward ("repent") the living God and seek his mercy. The reference to the use of oil in healing is interesting. Although part of ancient medical treatment, it was probably only used by the disciple as a theatrical prop. It was the messiah's power in healing that proclaimed the kingdom's coming.
A congregation was recently told by their minister that they could choose only two possible paths in the Christian life, either became an evangelist, or work to finance evangelism. Evangelism is always a hot topic in Christian circles. It is often presented as if it is an essential element in the Christian walk; the first obligation above all others. In fact, some suggest that without dedication toward the task of evangelism, God's kingdom will founder and the day of Christ's return will be delayed.
The Christian life is all about proportion; it's not all about evangelism, rather, it's all about many things, but evangelism is an important part of the mix. So, we need to start by getting the fit right and then proceed to the business of doing evangelism. Of first importance we need to understand that Christ gathers and builds his church and that we are but commissioned to participate in this work. Once we understand this truth we are then in a position to allow our passage to give us some hints as to the strategies we may use to this end.
Jesus takes the accepted medium of communication for his day and uses it as a vehicle for mass communication. His methodology is both traditional and theatrical. The disciples' garb gathers the crowd and their antics drive home the message - dusting off their shoes in the front of a Jewish audience is certainly powerful street theatre. Our access to the mass media gives the Christian church opportunities for communicating the gospel that have never existed before. Yet sadly, the church is so caught up in technique-based person-to-person marketing systems and pseudo church evangelistic meeting technology, that we fail to focus our efforts on the electronic media.
Both Jesus and his disciples proclaimed the news of God's dawning kingdom in both words and signs, calling on all to "repent". The gospel is a simple message announcing that Jesus freely offers us life eternal - because he lives, we can live also. All we have to do is face the living God and ask, but we must ask. As for proclaiming the gospel in signs, Jesus taught that the sign of God's dawning kingdom to the Gentile world is the love of the brotherhood - "love one another", cf Jn.17:20-23. The sense of the word "love" is best illustrated in words like "acceptance", or "forgiveness". The dawning kingdom is visibly displayed in the capacity of God's people to welcome and incorporate into the Christian fellowship even the most unlovely person.
Sadly, the gospel today is often presented as a series of theological lectures, and as for the gospel in sign, the rise of neo-puritanism displays anything but acceptance toward the great "unwashed". Let us both communicate to broken humanity God's love in Christ and let us also strive to live it.
1. Why aren't Jesus' practical instructions in this passage binding on us today?
2. In light of this passage, discuss the methodology and message (both word and sign) of evangelism.