Mark 6:1-13 consists of two related stories. The first is a story of Jesus’ visit to his home town – presumably Nazareth – and the second is the story of first apostolic mission. How they are related only becomes clear after examining each story separately.
Jesus at Home
Jesus grew up in a very small town. In Jesus’ day, Nazareth was probably home to no more than 200 residents. That doesn’t mean that Nazareth was backward or culturally isolated. The very large city of Sepphoris was just an hour’s walk down the road. But Sepphoris was largely Greek in culture and outlook, and the New Testament never mentions it. Nazareth was also near a main trade route from Egypt to the East. Jesus would not have needed to travel far to see caravans of goods and people from far off lands.
Although Jesus’ neighborhood was cosmopolitan, Jesus himself grew up in a very small community. I don’t know how many of you have ever lived in a one-stoplight town, but they are very different places. Even now, many of the people that you see every day will be aunts and uncles, and nephews or cousins of one degree or another. Before the age of rapid transportation, that was even more true. Most every one was kin of some sort – by blood or by marriage – and everyone knew everyone’s business.
In a small town like this, the people know Jesus. Before he began his ministry, he spent nearly 30 years there. The people knew that Jesus was a tekton – a skilled craftsmen and wood and maybe stone. They had watched him grow up. They knew his family.
This passage tells us a little about Jesus’ family. The town talks about his mother Mary, and his brothers and sisters. They don’t mention Joseph; perhaps Joseph had died much earlier in Jesus’ life. That’s what many scholars tend to draw from this.
They knew Jesus, so when he came home and preached in his hometown synagogue and told the people that they, too, needed God’s grace and needed to repent, they didn’t much care for it.
“Who does Jesus think he is? I changed his diaper .. He used to wrestle with my boys in the front yard .. He built my sheep pen.” They knew Jesus. They raised him. The older folks were like his mom and dad. In the words of one current senator, “It takes a village.” Well, it did back then. Now, Jesus was back, and he was acting more like their lord and master than like was one of them.
One of the things that’s interesting to me in all of this is how surprised his townsfolk are, not only by his power, but by his religious teaching. Despite Luke’s scene of the boy Jesus in the temple, Jesus must not have been some sort of strange, religious nerd as a kid. Growing up, Jesus must have seemed awfully normal. The people were genuinely surprised at who Jesus had become.
What a disappointment this trip was for Jesus. His kinsfolk didn’t want anything to do with the Kingdom of God that he was offering. Mark says that they “took offense” at him. Literally, it says they “stumbled.” Their own expectations and preconceptions tripped them up and made them fall.
How high Jesus’ hopes must have been for his own hometown. Mark says that Jesus could do no works of power there EXCEPT heal a few people. What kind of failure is that? If that were our standard every Sunday, how pathetic would we be? But Jesus’ hopes and expectations were high.
I would expect that some of you have had similar experiences with your family. I imagine that the first thing every new Christian does is turn to the members of their own family with the good news. It’s difficult. It’s awkward. You’re not a preacher or a Bible scholar, so what words do you use? The members of your family know you. They see you everyday. They’ve seen your past sins, and they know that the old sinful man still shows up from time to time. How dare you tell them they need to accept the grace of the kingdom and change their lives.
And then there are us old Christians who still hope for our family: for our children, to be sure, but also for our parents and siblings. We should have talked to them about Christ so long ago. Is it too late?
Our hopes and expectations are so high for the ones we love, so we make an effort. Sometimes, by the grace and power of God, our hopes are more than fulfilled and our family members come to know the same loving God that we’ve met. There are times, however, when our experience is less pleasant and less successful. It should be of some comfort to know that even Jesus Christ could not convince the members of his own extended family to submit to the gracious power of the Kingdom of God. If our hearts are broken when family members reject the gospel, know that the heart of Jesus was broken first. He knows our hope and shares our burden.
The Disciples on the Road
After Jesus leaves his hometown, he begins visiting other villages in the area. During the course of this phase of his ministry, Jesus decided to extend his ministry by deputizing his disciples and sending them on the road as well.
Some of this story seems strange. Take a staff and sandals. Don’t take any money or food or a bag. What’s up with this unusual packing list?
To understand this story, you need to know two things. The first is easy. It’s the ancient code of hospitality. Travelers didn’t eat in restaurants and stay in motels. It was the duty of the people of the town to provide food, lodging and a warm welcome.
The second thing you need to know is the basic outline of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God. For Jesus, these healings and exorcisms weren’t just healings and exorcisms. They were signs that the Kingdom of God was breaking into the world. God was being gracious in offering his Kingdom to a sinful world. Someday, the Kingdom would come in power bringing peace, justice and healing for all creation, but even now – in the ministry of Jesus and his disciples – the power of the kingdom was evident.
The coming of the Kingdom of God meant the coming of the grace of God, but that grace also demanded a response for those who heard Jesus’ words and saw his actions. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus said. “Repent and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
Taken together, these two insights point to Jesus’ village-to-village ministry – and that of his disciples – as kind of a living parable. Jesus came to town with the message of the kingdom and a demonstration of its power for healing and wholeness. How the village responded to Jesus – by offering hospitality or withholding it – indicated how they were responding to the work of God in their lives. That’s why Jesus sent the disciples with the necessity’s for foot travel – sandals to protect the feet and a staff for mobility and protection – but without the means to support themselves. Their dependency on the grace of God and the kindness of strangers was a part of the mission.
It should be noted, as I have said, that this was a living parable, not a blue print for missionaries for all time. If you are on the road for God today, I’m pretty sure that you don’t need to carry a big stick with you all the time, and I think you’re allowed to wear shoes instead of sandals. When I travel, I usually take more than one shirt.
There are, however, some abiding principles in here, the first of which is this: Trust in God to provide and empower your work. You aren’t smart enough or powerful enough to do it on your own.
A second is this: Never forget that God’s grace is for the poor and powerless as much or more as it is for the rich and powerful. Don’t take two tunics. John the Baptist said, “If you have two tunics, give one two the person who doesn’t have one.” (Luke 3:11) It’s hard for us to imagine the level that most people lived on back then. Having two tunics was a luxury that many could not afford. Don’t come into town putting on airs or folks will never hear what you have to say. Be willing to get down on the level of those you are trying to help. Jesus did.
Another is this: Don’t do the work of God just to get something for yourself. That’s what the bag was all about. There were wandering preachers in the ancient world who made their living on good stories, interesting sayings and a miracle here or there. Jesus wanted to make it clear: this was not a job. It was a calling. Don’t do it for the money. Do it to make your mother happy. Don’t do it to meet some sort of deep need to be loved or important or powerful. It’s not about you.
These are some of the things, I believe, that Jesus wanted his disciples to learn as they went out on this first mission trip.
This trip itself was part of Jesus’ plan to help his disciples grow, not only in their personal faith, but in their ability to lead the worldwide church in its coming worldwide mission. The word that Mark uses for “send” is “apostello,” and it’s the same word that will describe the disciples when they take the reigns of the church following Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation.
In other words, Jesus is being a leader and this is part of his leader development plan. He is using a see it – do it – teach it process of leader training. The disciples have seen Jesus in action. Now Jesus is sending them out on a brief mission trip of their own. He gives them the authority and power to do what he himself has been doing. It’s the first baby step in their leader development.
Ultimately, they will become responsible for leading and supervising the worldwide church. They will be developing leaders of their own. The Biblical word is “overseer” or “episkopos” or “bishop.” For the church to live and grow, this process must continue. Those who see the grace of God must become those who share the grace of God. At least some of them must go on to become leaders in the church, equipping and training the next generation of Christians for their work in God’s field.
See it – do it – teach it. Receive the ministry – share the ministry – lead the ministry: where are you in this model?
If you are seeing Jesus at work in your life and in your world, is it time now for Jesus to send you out in his name. Is it time for you to take a baby step from being a receiver of the grace of God to becoming a transmitter of the grace of God?
Or maybe you are a solid “Go” in the doer department. You not only see the grace of God at work in your life, you are busy, busy, busy doing the Lord’s work. First of all, thank you, thank you thank, you. There are some of you, however, that need to move from doer to teacher / mentor / advisor / discipler / supervisor / overseer. There may even be some of you whom God is calling to be pastors and ordained ministers.
All Christians are ministers. Your baptism is your commission. Some have particular gifts and graces. Some have particular responsibilities. But all are ministers.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Pastor, I’m quite comfortable where I am. If I try to go out in Jesus’ name or help lead the church, people might reject me. Someone might get mad.”
Yes, they might. Jesus prepared his disciples for that, too. They had seen Jesus rejected by his own hometown, and now Jesus told them that the same thing might happen to them. “Just shake the dust off your feet,” Jesus said. There’s nothing else you can do but move on – and let your heart ache a little.
Take a Risk
I said that the connection between these two passages becomes clear only after one looks at them in some detail.
Both passages are about taking the risk that comes with living out your faith in the world. Whether it’s at home or on the road, with complete strangers or with our own families, the power of the Kingdom that is at work within us wants to break out and work through us. Maybe it’s a passion for evangelizing the lost or maybe it’s a passion for healing the sick or feeding the hungry or making peace in this troubled world. When we know the transforming power of God in our lives, that power just wants to get out through our hands and feet into the lives of others. The risk is, the people don’t want it.
That didn’t stop Jesus. Some of his family members rejected him and were angry with him. That doesn’t really compare with what happened later involving a whip, a cross and some nails. Rejection broke both Jesus’ heart and his body, but Jesus just kept on taking the risk of offering the grace of God to others.
Can we do less?