Remembering that we are People of the Way following in Jesus footsteps, we open our hearts and minds in the spirit of prayer…
God of promise and blessing,
we give thanks that we do not travel alone
on this journey of faith.
We are grateful for the wisdom of our ancestors in faith
and for the wisdom and witness of our community of faith today.
Guide our steps that we may follow Jesus
and seek to emulate his ministry of compassionate service.
Encourage us when the path is rocky and we feel discouraged.
Remind us of your constant presence as we journey together,
this day and in the days to come.
Today’s reading from the Gospel according to Mark is commonly known as the Mission of the Twelve. This compact story is so full of details that can be confusing to our modern sensibilities. We know that Jesus was an itinerant teacher who travelled on foot with his disciples. They lived and travelled communally sharing whatever provisions they had and accepting hospitality from others wherever they went. Mark tells us that after Jesus’ rejection in his hometown of Nazareth, he travelled on to other villages and then commissioned his disciples to travel in pairs and spread out to other villages to share his healing ministry.
It is important to note that when Jesus’ disciples separated from the larger group they always travelled with a companion. Not only would it have been safer to travel with a buddy but it was also a symbol of the communitarian style of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ ministry focussed on building relationships, with God, self and others, and on strengthening life in community. One person never represented the Jesus’ movement on their own but rather a cooperative egalitarian model of leadership was encouraged. Regardless of how long the travelling disciples would be away from the larger group they would always come back together to rest, to share their stories, and be encouraged and strengthened by their community of faith.
Slightly different versions of the story of the Mission of the Twelve are told in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (Matt. 10:5-14; Mark 6:6b-13; Luke 9:1-6) but it is significant that this story appears in all these Gospels. In each of the versions, there are specific instructions about what the disciples were allowed to take with them which was basically the clothes on their backs. Mark’s version allows the taking of a staff that would help with walking the sometimes difficult terrain and would assist in warding off wild animals. All of the versions agree that no bread, no bag, no money, nor an extra tunic were to be taken.
These “rules of the road”, for the disciples, made them dependent on the hospitality of others. The provision that an extra tunic would not be taken ensured the disciples needed to stay with someone rather than in the countryside using an extra tunic as a blanket. It also afforded the mutual sharing of spiritual gifts and services; the disciples provided teaching and healing in exchange for food and lodging. However long they stayed in a village they were to stay the entire time with the first person that offered them hospitality. There was to be no competition for who could offer the best meals or provide the best accommodation. This also meant less distraction for the disciples who would not constantly be looking for a better possibility but would instead accept with grace whatever was offered them in love. The disciples’ mission was to spread the Good News of God’s Commonwealth and to show this as a reality through their faith-filled teaching and healing ministry.
I can barely imagine what it must have been like to set off on a journey with no provisions except for tremendous faith, a sense of purpose and trust in God’s steadfast presence. As I was pondering the Gospel story this week I remembered an experience I had in Guatemala that helps me to understand the courage and intense faith that was required of Jesus’ first disciples.
This experience was during the last year of my theological studies when I travelled to Guatemala with seven of my classmates for part of the required Global Perspectives Experience. While there, we travelled from Guatemala City on a very long and windy road into the highlands of Guatemala to the remote community of Santa Rosita.
The people of Santa Rosita are very poor. They live and work on a coffee plantation and scratch out a living that provides basic survival at best. The closest village is miles away and they have no transportation other than where their own legs can carry them. But, in Santa Rosita, there is faith and hope and a strength of community born of necessity. The women of Santa Rosita formed a health cooperative with the help of a non-profit organization in order to increase the health and safety of their families. Basic health and sanitation is a challenge there as the people live in simple dirt floor huts with no running water or electricity. Their lives are physically and emotionally hard, struggling to keep their children alive and keep themselves healthy enough to work and care for them.
When my companions and I arrived at Santa Rosita we were enthusiastically welcomed and enjoyed genuine warmth and generous hospitality. The women of Santa Rosita shared their stories of faith and hope and wanted in turn to hear our stories and the challenges that we faced in our daily lives. While we were visiting, we found out that one of the women from the Health Cooperative had been chosen by their group to represent their community at a three day consultation of indigenous cooperatives which would be held in Guatemala City. The problem was that the woman, who I’ll call Anna, had no way of getting to the city so she asked if she could hitch a ride with us because we were heading back to Guatemala City that day. When we boarded our mini-bus, I notice Anna had no luggage and no purse. All that she carried was one small open basket containing one clean blouse, one handkerchief, a toothbrush, and a hair brush for her time away. She also had a scrap of paper with the address of the meeting place where the consultation was to take place. Anna had never been to Guatemala City and confided that she was afraid. But, despite her fears, she was going and she had faith that she would find her way to the right place and then somehow get a ride back home when the consultation was over.
The courage it took this indigenous woman to venture into unknown territory on her own with few resources was amazing to me. Her faith in God and commitment to her community, which had entrusted her to represent them, inspires me now as much as it did then. When thinking about this experience I’ve always focussed on Anna’s courage in the face of her fear of the unknown. This week, as I’ve reflected on the story from Mark’s Gospel, I’ve realized that my colleagues and I were Anna’s companions on the journey for a short while and that others would be her companions during her stay in Guatemala City and on the journey home. She, like Jesus’ first disciples, had a mission to benefit her community. And she, like Jesus’ first disciples, did not travel alone but moved with the strength and courage that comes from faith and from fellow travellers on the journey.
Companions come into our lives sometimes for a short time and sometimes for a lifetime but they are all important on our journey of life and faith. I’ll close with Expressions of Faith, from companions from the Northumbria Community in North Eastern England, that speaks to me of the faith and trust of Jesus’ followers in every time and place.
Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I be poor,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.
Lord, you have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.
(Excerpts from, Expressions of Faith, pgs. 22-23, Celtic Daily Prayer: From the Northumbria Community, Harpur Collins Publishers, 2005)
N.B. It is the habit of the Northumbria Community to break from all activities four times a day to share in a simple worship service. Every night, Expressions of Faith is spoken or sung in unison as part of evening worship.