Wednesday, March 07, 2012

5.4 Mission within a Mission

... continued from Monday
From these observations in Mark, probably the earliest gospel, we conclude that the bulk of Jesus' message and proclamation of the good news was not about him.  It was about what God the Father was doing. It was about the kingdom of God, as I argued back in chapter 2.

At one point, Jesus seems to have sent his core disciples out to spread the word as well. In Mark 6:12-13, they go out preaching that people needed to repent, as well as healing and casting out demons.  In other words, their ministry mirrored that of Jesus. They were spreading the word that God was soon coming in judgment of the world and the faithless within Israel. God was reclaiming the earth from demonic powers. God was restoring the lost sheep among his people.

Jesus instructs them not to take food or a bag for begging (6:8-9).  The villages to which they preach are to support them but they are to take nothing extra away. They take sandals to protect their feet and a staff for protection, but not an extra shirt.  Their visit to a village was a test of that village's faith.  It was the duty of the village to welcome and support the disciple and, if it would not, the disciples were to "shake the dust off" their feet and move on (6:11).

Matthew's version does not actually tell of them going out and arguably blurs the mission the disciples went on during Jesus' earthly mission with the mission after Jesus rose from the dead. On the one hand, they are only to go to the cities of Israel.  They are not to go either to Samaria or the Gentiles (10:5). They are going only to the "lost sheep of Israel" (10:5). Because the Great Commission clearly involves all the nations (28:19), these instructions surely relate to the time while Jesus was still on earth.

Other parts of the instruction seem to relate to the time after Jesus' resurrection. It does not seem likely that any of the disciples were handed over to local councils or synagogues while Jesus was on earth (10:17). And they did not appear before Roman governors and kings until decades later (10:18).  The coming of the Son of Man before the end of their mission is puzzling (10:23), but reminds us of statements we find in Mark 9:1, 13:30 and elsewhere that speak of the kingdom coming in some way before the disciples' death.

The statement of taking up their cross also would have been quite puzzling before Jesus' death but would have been deeply appropriate afterwards. Matthew 10 thus seems to combine instructions both appropriate to the initial mission of the disciples during Jesus' earthly ministry and instructions that apply to the decades after Jesus' rising from the dead.

Luke remembers the mission of the disciples having some success.  Luke 10:1-24 tells of a slightly different mission, a mission involving 72.  The number 72 was probably symbolic of the nations and so hints of the mission to the whole world that would take place after Jesus' resurrection. But during Jesus' life, the disciples are amazed that the demons even have to obey them (10:17). Jesus tells them that this fact points to the demise of Satan's power over this world.  He was falling from the sky like lightning (10:18).

Mark remembers the disciples having some failures. They are unable to cast out one demon in particular in Mark 9:18. Jesus indicts them for a lack of faith.

If the mission instructions of Jesus in Matthew 10 seem to blur the mission both before and after Jesus' resurrection, it is possible that the gospels also blur the rejection of the cities where that mission was carried out.  The tone of Jesus' approach to Jerusalem is victorious.  He enters Jerusalem to a crowd that celebrates him as king.

But the memory of the cities around Galilee is one of rejection. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes" (Matt. 11:21).  Similarly, Jesus says of Capernaum, "Will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades" (11:23).  Unfortunately, the final memory of the mission in Galilee is one in which these villages ultimately rejected Jesus as king.

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