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Follow Me

“Follow me”, is a reoccurring refrain of Jesus, according to the gospel of Mark. And this week, as we reflect on the rejection of Jesus in his home town, and the subsequent sending out of the twelve disciples, we begin to become aware of how challenging that invitation might be. (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 9 (14) Mark 6:1-13.) It is as though Jesus says, “If you are to follow me then you need to follow where I go and encounter what I encounter.” This following Jesus business is not just about making an initial decision about beliefs but going on a life long journey which often requires that we swim in the opposite direction to many of those around us.

It is important to consider what this text tells us about the relationship of Jesus to his family and home town and why that might have been disturbed at times. You may like to read what I wrote three years ago about Jesus and his home town.

 


But just as these events and issues led to the disciples being sent out two by two then it is important to reflect on what this story says to us now about our life of faith. Of all the things we could consider I would like to reflect on just three implications of this story for us.

 

Firstly, that if we are going to proclaim in word and deed, in our theology and lifestyle, the nearness – indeed the in-breaking, of the kingdom of God then we are going to cut across existing cultural expectations and interests and this is going to arouse disturbance and push back. The kingdom, or household, or economy of God, has different priorities and values to general society (sometimes even to church communities) and when we truly proclaim and try and live according to the values of the kingdom, we are going to find ourselves at odds with those around us sometimes. Kingdom priorities are not always the same as nice steady-as-you-go belonging to society expectations. And when we choose differently it can be experienced by others as a criticism or an inconvenience.

 

Secondly Jesus sent the disciples out with the minimum of provisions and personal possessions (one tunic only, sandals and a staff but no money or other provisions).This made the disciples dependent upon the provision of God and the hospitality of those the disciples were seeking to minister to.

 

Some have commented on the similarities (and differences) between the attire described in Mark’s gospel and other resources that recorded Cynics, travelling ascetics and philosophers, who roamed and taught and provoked. While there are similarities there are enough differences in clothing and conduct that it is more likely that the disciples were being reminded of the Exodus and the instructions given to the chosen ones about to follow Moses out of oppression and slavery in Egypt to the promised land through wilderness and trial.

 

Unencumbered by provisions the disciples are able, indeed need to, focus on their mission and to preach and heal from a position of humility and vulnerability, of reliance on God rather than their own strength, and openness to the gifts as well as the needs of those they went to serve. This is challenging to many of us: we are to care for others not out of our own well stocked barns and great wisdom but out of the generosity of God and neighbour and in humility and faith.

 

And thirdly, although very uncomfortable, I think there is a challenge in this story as in so many gospel stories about our attachment to material wealth and control of our own directions and choices. Some have suggested that the disciples were called to a particularly demanding standard because it was like a state of emergency in the short amount of time that Jesus had with his disciples in the three years of public ministry and teaching. I am sure this has some truth to it. But I also suspect that we, especially in the West, are very uncomfortable about any challenge to the prevailing wisdom that wealth acquisition and maintenance is how we achieve security and control over our own lives. It is extremely counter cultural to consider following one who has nowhere to lay his head or call home. While we may not all, or even many, be called to such extreme reliance on grace, we should all feel challenged to review our relationship with material comfort and ownership. Proclaiming the kingdom of God here now on earth surely means living in such ways that other people, species and creation itself, can live and thrive also.

 

And when our proclamations and offerings are not received we are to move on, shaking the dust off our sandals (but not calling down fire and brimstone). What might this strange instruction mean? Dust has layers of possible meanings and connotations. Dust reminds us of the creation of humans out of dust and our mortality as we are to return to dust; also of judgement and curse such as the serpent being doomed to crawl upon its belly and eat dust; and also dust is associated with repentance when covering one’s head in dust. So the shaking off of dust may carry a sense of judgement and a warning of future judgement. There also is a sense of parting gift in a challenge to continue to consider and reflect of what has been offered and therefore of continuing hope. Any of us who loves someone with addiction or many other long term struggles will know that one cannot give up on those we love when the first offer of help is not accepted but to pray that the seed do its work. Just as we do not always know the nature of the gift we have been given until years later, or until it is offered us again at a different time in our lives, so it may be for others.

Even so, come Lord Jesus the Christ, come lead us into fields of belonging and letting go, fields of correction and challenge, until we trust the gift of your love and purpose.


This is my work influenced by all that I have read and experienced. This week I am indebted to the scholarly work of John T. Squires: An Informed Faith

'Just sandals and a staff - and only one tunic' (Mark 6)

'Shake off the dust that is on your feet' (Mark 6)

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