MARK 3-6. THE CONTEXT
The stories of Jesus’ visit to his hometown and his commissioning of the twelve are two separate stories. The first story has to do with belief and unbelief. The second story has to do with the call of disciples and the proclamation of the Gospel. Both stories have to do with the acceptance or rejection of Christ or his representatives. Brueggemann suggests that the preacher choose one of the stories rather than trying to integrate both of them into a single sermon (Brueggemann, 418).
Mark positions these two stories after the miracle stories of chapter 5: Jesus’ healing of the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20), the healing/resurrection of Jairus’ daughter (5:21-23, 35-43), and the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage (5:24-34). In these stories, Jesus’ demonstrated his great power on both sides of the Sea of Galilee—the eastern Gentile side and the western Jewish side. Those who witnessed his power, Gentile and Jew, were amazed (5:20, 42). Jesus’ visit to his hometown therefore follows great demonstrations of Jesus’ power. To the extent that they are aware of these miracles, Jesus’ hometown folk have reason to be proud. We would expect them to welcome him with a ticker-tape parade—but they don’t.
However, this isn’t the first account in this Gospel of Jesus visiting his hometown. In an earlier visit, his family or friends “went out to seize (Jesus): for they said, ‘He is insane.’ The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul,’ and ‘By the prince of the demons he casts out the demons'” (3:21-22). Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the hometown folk fail to welcome Jesus more warmly in this later visit.
Immediately following these two stories, Mark tells us of the death of John the Baptist (6:14-29). The call of the disciples is therefore sandwiched between two stories of rejected prophets—Jesus rejected by his hometown people (vv. 1-6a) and John killed by the king (vv. 14-29). Following the death of John the Baptist, Mark reports the disciples gathering around Jesus to report the results of the mission on which he has sent them (6:30)—perhaps suggesting that, no matter how dark the moment, the church continues its work. God will not be stymied even by the death of one of his greatest servants.
The report of the death of John the Baptist (6:14-29) is sandwiched between the account of Jesus sending the disciples on a mission (6:7-13) and their reporting the results of that mission to Jesus (6:30). The stories of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth and John’s death demonstrate the power of evil arrayed against God’s prophets and give us a hint of what lies ahead for Jesus. They also prepare us for the opposition that the disciples will face in the early church and warn us that we cannot expect an evil world to welcome our witness to Christ more warmly that it welcomed Christ.
MARK 6:7. HE CALLED TO HIMSELF THE TWELVE
7He called to himself the twelve, and began to send them out (Greek: apostellein) two by two; and he gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
“He called to himself the twelve” (v. 7a). Mark will refer to these twelve as “apostles” when they report back to Jesus in 6:30—the only time that Mark uses the word “apostles” in this Gospel.
“and began to send them out (apostellein) two by two” (v. 7b). The word “apostle” comes from this word apostellein, which means “sent out.”
There are parallel accounts in Matthew 10:1-42 and Luke 9:1-6—as well as an account of the sending of the seventy in Luke 10:1-16. These accounts vary somewhat, as we would expect of stories that had their origins in oral tradition.
Jesus sends out the twelve two-by-two. This strategy is powerful for three reasons:
• A partner bestows strength—”For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls, and doesn’t have another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:10). Not only do partners protect each other from physical danger, but they also provide pleasant companionship and encourage each other in difficult circumstances.
• A second person lends credibility. Deuteronomy 15:19 requires two or three witnesses to convict a person of a crime, because a single witness is likely to make a mistake. For that same reason, one witness has less credibility than two—an important consideration when sending disciples to bear witness. Jesus could have sent them in groups of three, but two people are usually more effective than three. In a group of three, often two will bond with each other and will not fully accept the third person.
• A partner fosters accountability. A person is less likely to succumb to temptation when accompanied by a partner.
“two by two” (v. 7b). Jesus sent the twelve apostles out two by two—six pairs of apostles. That raises some questions, doesn’t it! How did Jesus pair up the apostles?
• Did he assign a strong apostle like Simon Peter with a weaker apostle like Simon the Cananaean? That would be a little confusing, wouldn’t it—two Simons paired together! Or did he pair Simon Peter with his brother, Andrew?
• Did Jesus pair James, the son of Zebedee, with his brother John? James and John were known as the “Sons of Thunder” (3:17). They must have been noisy guys! Did Jesus send James and John together—or did he tone them down by splitting them up. Maybe he sent James with someone like Thaddaeus? You’ve probably never heard of Thaddaeus—and for good reason. His name appears in the lists of apostles, but that’s all we know about him.
• What about Judas Iscariot—the man who would betray Jesus? Judas was one of the twelve. Just imagine how you would have felt if you had been an apostle and Jesus had paired you with Judas Iscariot to go out and preach the Gospel. At the time, of course, Judas hadn’t yet done his dirty deed, so you probably wouldn’t have thought anything about it.
“and gave them authority over the unclean spirits” (v. 7c). Mark doesn’t mention teaching, which has been an important component of Jesus’ ministry. The emphasis for the disciples on this particular journey is on preaching (v. 12), casting out demons, and healing the sick (v. 13).
MARK 6:8-11. HE COMMANDED THEM THAT THEY SHOULD TAKE NOTHING
8He commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a staff only: no bread, no wallet, no money (Greek: chalkon—the smallest of copper coins) in their purse, 9but to wear sandals, and not put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter into a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11Whoever will not receive you nor hear you, as you depart from there, shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony (Greek: marturion—testimony, witness—this is where we get our word, martyr) against them.”
“He commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a staff only: no bread, no wallet, no money in their purse, but to wear sandals, and not put on two tunics” (vv. 8-9). Jesus tells the twelve to take nothing but a staff and sandals—no bread, no bag, no money, and only a single tunic. Jesus prohibits not only frivolous items, but essential ones as well. His requirements go beyond simplicity to reckless faith. The disciples are to proceed without adequate preparation, trusting local people for hospitality but, above all, trusting God to provide for their needs.
Jesus is no ascetic—people have called him a drunk and a glutton (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34)—and he does not require his disciples to be ascetics. He does, however, require faith, and starting a journey without provisions is a profound act of faith.
There are several parallels with the Exodus:
• Jesus’ instructions to the twelve sound very much like God’s instructions regarding the Passover lamb: “This is how you shall eat it: with your belt on your waist, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste” (Exodus 12:11).
• The requirement that the twelve not carry bread is reminiscent of God’s instructions to the Israelites regarding manna. They were to trust that God would provide daily manna, gathering only an omer of manna per person each day and not keeping any of it overnight (Exodus 16:16-19).
• The requirement that they carry no money reminds us of the problems that the Israelites experienced when they stole gold from the Egyptians in preparation for their journey (Exodus 3:22). While the gold was useful for adornment of the Tabernacle, it led to their undoing when the people persuaded Aaron to make a golden calf (Exodus 32).
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there” (v. 10). The requirement for the disciples not to move from house to house serves two purposes: First, it prevents bad feelings among hosts who might be embarrassed if the disciples leave their home for better accommodations. Second, it prevents the disciples from being distracted by concern for their physical comfort.
To what extent do these prohibitions apply to disciples today? Does Christ require this same freedom from possessions of us?
• On the one hand, we can say no. Jesus gave these instructions to disciples engaged in a particular, short-term ministry. Also, their environment was quite different—Jewish hospitality demanded that villagers receive and provide food and lodging for travelers. No such requirement exists today in most places, so we must be prepared to provide for our own needs while traveling.
• On the other hand, we can say yes. Jesus’ instructions called for the disciples to focus on mission rather than personal comfort. Jesus called them to a great purpose, and they were not to be distracted by trivia. That emphasis is timeless.
• Paul’s example is helpful at this point. Paul lived simply and endured many hardships in the course of his ministry. While he accepted some support from churches (Philippians 4:13-19), he provided for most of his personal needs by making and selling tents (Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 9:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:8).
The issue of financial support for ministry is never easily resolved. Is ministry enhanced by the pastor having an automobile—and a computer—and a professional library? Probably! Is ministry enhanced by a congregation having an attractive church building? Probably! Is it appropriate for clergy to expect a living wage? In most cases! Do these financial considerations sometimes become ends in themselves, detracting from our mission? Certainly! How do we manage ministry without church budgets and pastoral compensation packages becoming distractions? By prayer and constant vigilance!
“Whoever will not receive you nor hear you, as you depart from there, shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony against them” (v. 11). Jews returning from Gentile lands would shake off pagan dust as a gesture of cleansing and contempt. When the disciples shake off the dust of an unreceptive village, they are declaring that village pagan—announcing God’s judgment on that village—washing their hands of further responsibility for that village (Guelich, 322-323). The gesture serves as a warning to the offending village and frees the disciples to move to more fertile fields. Their responsibility is faithful proclamation—not success.
MARK 6:12-13. THEY CAST OUT MANY DEMONS
12They went out and preached that people should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed many with oil who were sick, and healed them.
The disciples go where Christ sends them and do what Christ tells them to do. They are not great men, but they accomplish great things in Christ’s name. Like John the Baptist (1:4) and Jesus (1:15), they preach repentance (v. 12). Like Jesus, they cast out demons (1:25-26, 34, 39, 5:1-13). Like Jesus, they cure the sick.
Unlike Jesus, his disciples anoint with oil. By the time of the writing of this Gospel, anointing with oil was a regular ministry of the church. While anointing could serve several purposes (such as setting a person apart for ministry), the anointing mentioned in this verse has to do with healing the sick and casting out demons. James calls for the anointing of the sick, but says that it is the prayer of faith that saves them (James 5:14-15).
MARK 6:30. THE DISCIPLES REPORT TO JESUS
30The apostles gathered themselves together to Jesus, and they told him all things, whatever they had done, and whatever they had taught.
This is a very spare account of the disciples’ report to Jesus, giving no details regarding their difficulties or accomplishments. It brings to a close the story of the disciples’ mission.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2015, Richard Niell Donovan