This homily is based on Mark 6:7-13.
In our Gospel today, the Lord sends out his chosen Twelve on their mission. He gives them very specific instructions, which, if read closely, can be quite instructive for us today.
The first thing to say about our Lord’s instructions is that he makes sure that each of the Twelve travel with a companion: They are sent in pairs. This is a very practical thing to do when you’re traveling; it’s certainly much smarter–and safer–not to travel alone.
But the same wisdom applies to the spiritual life: It cannot simply be a private matter. Contrary to what we sometimes hear people say about their faith, it is never just “between me and my God.” Spiritual companionship is essential because it is always helpful to check with another person about our interior goings-on. Discernment is complex business, especially since we can all be quite adept at self-justification and rationalization–so adept, in fact, that we often are not even conscious that we are doing it. A spiritual companion or director is someone with whom we can check about how we are doing and who, in turn, can guide us in our efforts to discern God’s will in our lives.
Another thing that is noticeable is that Jesus spends a whole lot of time talking about what the Twelve should not bring. In a word, everything! Everything, that is, except for a walking stick and sandals. Never mind the walking stick, but the instruction to wear sandals is, in my opinion, significant because in the Bible, going barefoot (or “unshod”) means humility and spiritual poverty, usually in the presence of the Lord. So it’s surprising that Jesus tells the Twelve to make sure they wear sandals.
I think wearing sandals–as well as bringing a walking stick–tells us how important the mission is for our Lord. There is a time for contemplative prayer, but there is a time for apostolic commitment. For the Twelve, this is a time for the mission, so they ought to be well-equipped for the journey. Being well-equipped for the journey doesn’t mean having all the provisions you need; on the contrary, the Twelve are supposed to “take nothing for the journey!” Rather, it means having the stamina to travel from one place to another.
What is most remarkable is what our Lord does not say. While he is quite prescriptive about how the Twelve are to dress as well as how to act when rejected, the Lord says virtually nothing about what they are to say. That’s a pretty conspicuous omission, I think, since you would expect the Twelve to preach. But perhaps the reason is that, as the Lord himself very well knows, actions do preach louder than words. And as he has said elsewhere, when his followers speak, they must allow the Spirit to speak through them.
The way our Lord instructed the Twelve for their mission teaches us three valuable lessons about our mission today. First, the guidance of others is crucial to our mission, so we need to be humble enough to listen to our companions in the mission. Secondly, we need to make sure that we have the stamina to persevere in our mission. And finally, at the end of the day, it is our actions–not our words–that will make the difference.
These three lessons correspond to three graces that we need in our mission as followers of the Lord: the humility to listen to and learn from others, the perseverance to keep working and hoping, and the integrity to put our faith into action.
Which one of these three graces do you need the most? Which one should you pray for today?