Today’s reading is Mark 6:7-13:
Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Discipleship, the act of following and imitating Christ, not conforming “to this world” but instead living a life “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2), is undeniably a principle that each follower of Christ has been called to personify in their lives. But its close relative, apostleship, is far too often either misunderstood or relegated (regrettably) to a lesser role in an effort to “adapt” Christianity to an increasingly secular world. Through today’s passage, Jesus’s commission to the 12 Apostles (sometimes known as the “Little Commission”, as opposed to the “Great Commission” given before Jesus’s ascension into heaven) allows us to examine the difference between what it means to be a disciple and to be an apostle and the implication apostleship carries for our daily lives.
While “disciple” is derived from the Greek word “mathetes” (student or apprentice), which eventually entered the English language through the Latin “discipulus”, “apostle” comes from the Greek “apostolos”, literally “one who is sent away.” Drawing its roots from the Latin translation for apostle as “missio,” English gives us the modern equivalent “missionary.” With this in mind, a disciple is a student of the Word of God, one who is always striving to learn and grow in his or her faith. An apostle not only seeks to constantly learn but also goes one step further by sharing what he or she has learned with others. Interpreted narrowly, an apostle can be seen as holding an office directly bestowed by God (Gal 1:1), empowered to write Scripture and perform miracles (Jn 14:26). Though no such office-holders exist today, in following the path traced by the original Christians, we are called to uphold the public nature of Christianity through sharing the powerful message of forgiveness, love, and Christ’s triumph over death with others.
With that tidbit of Biblical etymology under our belts, what does this really entail for us? After all, the 12 Apostles have seemingly set some pretty high standards. How can we be expected to follow in their footsteps?
First, apostleship is by nature highly public and predicates itself upon forming interpersonal relationships. We hear from Jesus earlier in Mark (4:21) how ridiculous it is to light a lamp then immediately place it underneath a basket – after all, the purpose of such a lamp is to light up its surrounding environment (not to mention also to avoid the inherent risk of setting the basket or bed on fire). As Christians, our goal is to project God’s love through both our words and actions with the intent of lighting up the darkness around us, a world challenged by hardship, conflict, and human imperfections. Note also that Christ calls for the Apostles to go out “two by two” to strengthen the validity and trustworthiness of their message. If one person alone had entered a town and began to talk about a Messiah who could raise the dead and drive out demons, most people would think that he or she was exaggerating at best and behaving like a lunatic at worst (as Paul mentions in 1 Tim 5:19). Though partnering up to swarm others may not be the best way to share the Gospel, we can still strengthen the power and authenticity of our message if we ourselves strive to be authentic in our faith and our daily lives. None of us can instinctively divorce messenger and the message; the two are undeniably intertwined and influence our approach and reception to each. People are innately drawn to authenticity and are more willing to open up and listen if they feel that the other person is truly genuine; hypocrisy or being “lukewarm” inherently turns people away. If we do not value our own message enough to embody it in our lives, who else would feel a need to do so?
Furthermore, apostleship demands humility and sacrifice. We see in today’s passage that Jesus sends out 12 specifically chosen men to be His messengers to the world, men who had given up their livelihoods, their friends and family, and their cherished memories and experiences of a past life. To this extent, he charges “them to take nothing for their journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in their belts” (12:8). And in the 2,000 years since Christ walked on Earth, the nature of relationships has not fundamentally changed. To be able to reach out to others and connect with them on a deeper level, we must approach them in humility and respect, as equals, in the same way God the Father sees each of us, equal and valuable in His eyes. And to be true messengers of God in this manner, first we must fully transform ourselves, denying our past life and striving towards Christ, letting ourselves be filled with the Holy Spirit, an action that ultimately requires sacrificing what we had treasured while we resided in the darkness. With this new mentality provided by Christ, we can approach others with an open heart and mind, letting them see the transformation that has played out within our hearts and minds. Leaving the moral high ground and condemnation behind, let us instead be moved by love, by earnest desire, and by faith in fulfilling our role as God’s messengers.
Finally, and most challenging for the Christian today, apostleship necessarily involves rejection. Christ instructs the Apostles to “shake off the dust that is on your feet [when you leave] as a testimony against [a house]” if they do “not receive you and…listen to you” (6:11), warning them that not everyone would embrace them and their message with open arms. Indeed, we see in the first part of chapter 6 that Jesus had just been rejected by those in his hometown of Nazareth. Bemused by their reactions of “astonishment” and marveling at “their unbelief” (6:6), he consequently foretold the judgment that would fall upon those who rejected him, as they would one day be held accountable for their conscious denial of God’s Word. But we see that Christ tells His apostles not to personally judge these unbelievers or hold them accountable for their decisions, but instead to simply leave a “testimony against them.” Viewed by God as equals, as equally sinful as those around us, we are in no position to condemn others, but we must be willing to accept hatred, scorn, even persecution, for Christ’s sake. It is our responsibility to passionately pursue apostleship and to give it our all, but at the point where even this is not enough, when our lone flickering candle finds it impossible to battle against the overwhelming darkness, we must remain strong and put our faith in God, for He is the only one who knows the plans for us and for each of His beloved creation (Jeremiah 29:11).
God’s gift to us in the form of Christ’s death on the cross is the greatest act of love ever manifested and that will ever be manifested. But to simply embrace that gift and then hide it for ourselves undermines the entire purpose of that gift. Not only have we been called to accept that gift and pursue Christ, but God has personally called each of us to proclaim it on the rooftops, to live out our lives with such great passion and genuineness that others cannot help but wonder at our transformation. And even though being an apostle, a messenger directly sent by God, carries great responsibility and sacrifices, tremendous burdens and obstacles to overcome, and a very real chance for failure, it is also a blessing because we carry within us the power to change someone’s life forever.
Eric Yang ’18 lives in Greenough Hall and plans on concentrating in Economics.