Gospel reflection for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
There is nothing surprising in Jesus calling the Twelve to him and sending them away on missions “two by two.”
Back in those times, itinerant rabbis often travelled in this way. And as Jean Debruynne said, “two can constitute a nation.”
They go in twos and take nothing. Not even a piece of bread or money to buy provisions, nor a knapsack to collect donations.
And no second tunic either; only one, just like the poor who wear the same one day and night. They set off with just their staffs, the wind at their backs.
The road is their nourishment and richness. They have their hands to heal, and the good word to bring hope.
Their presence changes lives; they didn’t only heal the sick, they “healed the world” to borrow Gérard Bessière’s elegant expression.
They came with so little adornment, which made their transparency even more clear.
Even today, their light prevails; through their presence, these diaphanous creatures communicate a light that that lifts us with its essence, quite unbeknownst to them.
When a house welcomed the disciples warmly, Jesus told them: “Stay in the same house until your departure,” literally “until you leave,” which is a curious formulation that sounds a little like a truism.
André Chouraqui interprets this as demonstrating a desire for a certain level of stability and an aversion to agitation. The disciples are warned against moving around “from house to house.”
However, not all households were welcoming. Some villages were closed off and refused to listen.
Jesus’ advice to the disciples in such situations appears rather disdainful: “Leave and wipe the dust from your feet as a testimony against them” (Mk 6:11).
This symbolically violent gesture indicates that the refusal to welcome the word of God could be a kind of contaminant, down to the dust from the floors it came from.
It is better in such cases to remove what might be left on their sandals and leave the dust with dust. This is not a curse but an invitation, a strong one at that, to engage in dialogue.
Re-reading this passage from the Gospel and thinking about the Football World Cup and the “spirit of the ball” about which such beautiful things were written, I turned again to Walk about the Villages by the Austrian writer Peter Handke.
It is a dramatic poem which, from start to finish, invites us to get up, to rise up and to live, here and now. Here is an extract:
“You, people from here… walk about… transmit something. Those who love, alone, transmit (…) It is true, many people, even in the most sumptuous surrounds, can’t look at the world with festivity. But even if the majority are incapable of being taken further, you, you can go further. Of course, there are but few of you – but is few too little? (…)”
“You, people of now… discover yourselves in as many gods (…) The sky is vast. The village is vast (…) Stand tall (…), let color bloom. Follow this dramatic poem. Go eternally in greeting. Walk about the villages.”
I do not wish to make this about the author of The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. And I do not wish to draw too direct a connection between the Gospel and Handke’s invitation to walk about the villages, to greet the world, and to transmit.
I simply admire the convergence of these texts, these great summons, and in my mind Jesus offers his disciples a startlingly similar invitation.
Ultimately, isn’t this what Jesus says to those he sends off, two by two?
“Walk about the villages. Go eternally in greeting. The sky is vast. Stand tall. Follow this dramatic poem. There are but a few among you, I know. Just two. But is few too little? Transmit something. Love. Walk. And, if needs be, brush the dust from your feet.”