Wednesday, March 14, 2012
In this passage of scripture there are two stories, one of Jesus sending out his disciples in two, and the other tells of the beheading of John the Baptist. What do these two things have to do with where we are today and what did it mean in its context?
Last Wednesday’s study focused on the Parable of the Sower, in which some of the seed does not make it to the point where it becomes fruitful and is destroyed right away, other seed at the first sign of trouble will fall, because they have no roots. Still others will grow up among the weeds and distractions of this world and eventually be choked out or distracted to the point of fruitlessness. In these two stories we find certain elements of this previous parable at work.
What seemed to be in question at the conclusion of last week’s lesson was whether or not the disciples really understood Christ and their calling. In our lesson today Jesus sends out the disciples two-by-two to confirm that initial calling and to begin some of the more practical work of trusting God for everything. Jesus knew that there was a time when these men would be his voice in the world and they would have to trust God in all. This sending out of the disciples to spread or preach the word is in contrast to the spreading of the word about Jesus was as a result of healing.
The disciples where able to carry out the ministry of Jesus, but they do not possess an independent authority. They are merely extensions of Jesus’ own activity. In other words they do not have the power to do really any of the things they are doing apart from the authority given to them by Jesus and so it is not their work but his.
Ministry in the church recognizes an obligation to continue Jesus’ work. It sometimes appears that the church has set its own institutional survival ahead of the gospel. We do not have a power or authority of our own rather the works that are done or accomplished are a continuation of the work begun in Christ. This work is the proclamation of the kingdom of God, and the reconciliation of God to man and man to one another.
Jesus sending them out in pairs could have made for safe travel. In the time of Jesus many thieves would wait in the outlying areas away from town and wait for individual travelers to come by so they could do them harm and/or rob them. Another possibility again emphasizes that Jesus called pairs of brothers and many in the New Testament traveled in pairs. There is yet a theory that suggests the use of pairs should be associated with the legal requirement for two witnesses to testify in a case (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 19:15). If this theory holds true then there is an implication of judgment against those who refuse to hear the messengers (witnesses) of the gospel.
There is also mention of what they were allowed to do, and take along as part of their missionary task. In Jesus time there were those that were traveling preachers who looked a certain way, and did things a certain way. Jesus sought to have his disciples to appear different from those others. In one way this was done so that the disciples would learn to trust God’s provisions for everything. They were not to carry money bags so others would not believe them as religious charlatans or magicians, seeking to make the healing power of God or the redemptive power of his message a commodity to be bartered.
Jesus asks them to stay in the first place they are offered until their work in that place is accomplished. In other words he did not want them to continue to try to move around or be seen as those wanting only to try to better their station within a community. The Apostle Paul also mentions that “the worker is worthy of his pay,” I Corinthians 9:14, 17-18. It seems to be more of the issue of rejecting the hospitality of the one who first took them in, and the presumption of valuing a better station more than the gospel or the people they are seeking to heal and save.
The final instructions given provide a response to those who reject the message of Jesus brought to them by the disciples. As you leave the town or city shake the dust off of your feet. The shaking of dust off of the feet was a gesture of cursing a place. Basically the town has refused to hear God’s word.
There will always be those that are unwilling to hear the word of the Lord. However, there will be those that are willing so shake off the dust and continue to spread the word. This is very similar to the previous week’s Parable of the Sower.
The next part of scripture foreshadows the dangers awaiting Jesus and possibly his followers as well both in his time and today. It appears that Herod recognizes Jesus as John the Baptist’s successor in some sense. The placement of this story is important, tough times will come and Jesus’ disciples now and then must be ready to understand this is a very real possibility. Often times this can come through manipulating those with earthly position with that same position. There is a willingness to sacrifice others to maintain honor, prestige, and power remains one of the great temptations of persons in positions of authority.