(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
Last Sunday, we heard about Jesus rejected by the people of Nazareth. We heard him unable or unwilling to perform great works (except for some healings, which certainly are great for the people who were ill!) Throughout the scripture passage, the disciples are present, but they are silent. We wonder what they think. In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus sends some of his disciples out to share in his ministry.
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
It is interesting that Jesus calls twelve of the disciples. What is special about the number twelve? It seems to be an important number in scripture. In Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, we hear about Jacob--also known as Israel--having twelve sons. Each of these sons becomes the ancestor of a tribe. These are known as the twelve tribes of Israel. In Exodus, the second book of the Bible, when God calls Moses to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt, all twelve tribes are freed together. All twelve tribes together enter the wilderness, and together they become the Chosen people of God. Because of this, the number twelve has a sense of wholeness about it. We wonder if Jesus remembers the Exodus when he calls "the twelve."
Jesus calls the twelve, but then he sends them out. The Greek word for "send" is apostelló. That word might sound familiar. From it, we get the word apostle. Apostles are people who are sent to do something.
He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
In their instructions, the twelve are told to bring only two things: a staff and sandals. Again, we are reminded of the twelve tribes of Israel, waiting to be led out of Egypt. God tells them to prepare the Passover Lamb, and then says,
This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. (Exodus 12:11)
Sandals on their feet, staff in their hands--they are ready to leave at a moment's notice. They are to eat in a hurry; They have not arrived at their destination; they are beginning a journey. We wonder if the twelve remember the Exodus as they begin their journey with staff and sandals.
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”
This sounds almost like a warning, doesn't it? As in the Gospel last week, we get the sense that the adventure will not always be grand. Jesus knows, and so do the twelve, that not everyone will welcome them. Some people will not accept the message, will refuse to hear the Good News. Like the twelve tribes of Israel wandering in the wilderness, they are to shake off the dust of the places that do not welcome them. Jesus makes it clear. Just as Jesus does not prove himself to the people of Nazareth, the twelve do not have to prove themselves to people who choose not to listen. People are free to enter into relationship with God or not. Invite them, but do not try to force them. Put that staff and sandals to good use, and just keep walking.
This must be a bit of a relief to the twelve. It is not pleasant being rejected. It is good to know that they do not have to stick around trying to please everyone, trying to make people believe. They are messengers, not enforcers! One less task for them to do!
So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
The twelve have witnessed Jesus rejected in his hometown. They have heard his warning that not all will welcome them. Yet still they go out. Still, they answer Jesus' call. What do they do? With their words, they call people to repent, to turn around, to come back to God. They proclaim a God who wants so badly to be in a free relationship with each person, and with all. With their actions, they show signs of the Kingdom. Their actions proclaim a time when there is no room for evil, a time when everyone is whole.
Sandals on their feet, staff in their hands--the twelve are people on the move. They have not yet arrived at their destination; they are on a journey. This is the work of the Kingdom. It is not yet the eternal Sabbath, it is not yet a time of rest.
The twelve are just the beginning, the first to be called. There is a sense of wholeness about the number twelve; all are invited into the work of the Kingdom. We are called at our Baptism, we are sent at Confirmation. We are sent each time we are dismissed from Mass:
Go now in peace to love and serve the Lord.
How do we proclaim a God who wants so badly to be in a free relationship with each person, and with all? Do we use our words? Or can our actions proclaim the Kingdom? Can our actions proclaim a time when there is no room for evil? Can our actions proclaim a time when everyone is whole? What would that look like? How close to wholeness would the Kingdom of God be?
Sandals on our feet, staff in our hands--we are people on the move. We are people on a journey to which all are invited. There is work to be done.