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15 OT B ~ Mk. 6:7-13 ~ "With Nothing But a Staff..." ~ Susan McGurgan, D.Min.



Scripture scholars and preachers

often tell us that

this passage speaks to the

importance of “Travelling Light.”  

They remind us (rightly) that we cannot effectively

carry the Gospel message

if we are burdened down

with the flotsam and jetsam

that chokes our culture,

crowds our closets,

overflows our storage units,

fills our hearts and minds,

demands our attention,

bends our backs,

and forces us to pay overweight baggage fees.

 

Jesus commands:

no food,

   no sack,

      no money,

         no second tunic. 

 

No Grubhub,

No Gucci bag,

No Amex Centurian, 

No air buds, ipads, Meta Quest,

6 pairs of shoes, 

5 golden rings

4 extra suitcases,  

or a partridge in a pear tree.

 

Traveling light offers us freedom.

 

This freedom allows us to pivot,

to pause,

to exit quickly if things go south,

to engage with people and places

along the way

instead of focusing on

what we must protect,

what we must store,

what we must drag behind us

like Wylie Coyote

lugging an anvil up a cliff.

 

Jesus invited his disciples

into an itinerant ministry

that was wholly dependent

on the generosity and kindness of strangers.

Since Jesus was sometimes accused

of being a drunk and a glutton—

a person overly fond of feasting with his friends—

this sending forth

with nothing but a staff,

sandals,

and tunic,

may be more a call to radical faith

and dependence on the providence of God,

than it is a call to absolute poverty.


But…here’s the thing.

We focus so much

upon what the disciples

didn’t carry,

we forget to consider what they did.  

 

They were sent out

with the commission

to preach,

to cast out demons,

to heal the sick,

and Jesus specifically instructed them

to take nothing but a tunic,

sandals

and a walking stick.  

 

The tunic and sandals are

practical gear,

handy if you don’t want to be

arrested for indecent exposure

or laid up with crippling blisters

and a bad case of sunburn.

 

And in that same vein,

a walking stick

offered protection from wild humans

and rabid beasts.

A staff could ward off a snarling dog

or persuade a robber

it would be the better part of valor

to just move on.  

 

On the dusty roads

leading to hillside villages,

a staff offered sure footing and a steady stride. 

 

But in the ancient world,

a staff was much more than,

well…a staff.

 

A staff,

rod,

walking stick

call it what you will,

was much more than a simple

aid to mobility  

or stout deterrent to crime.  

 

A staff was a tool,

an evocative symbol,

a recording device,

an axis

connecting God and humanity.

 

Staffs and scepters

were symbols of divine kingship

and imperial authority

as early as 6,000 B.C.

in Egypt and the Ancient Near East.

The image of a staff

was used in the hieroglyph of the words,

“nobleman” and “official.”

 

In the Greco-Roman pantheon,

the staff was an important attribute  

of Hermes and Iris,

the messengers and heralds

of the gods of Olympus.  

 

Asclepius,

the Greco-Roman god of medicine

was a well-known figure

in the world of first century Judea.

Asclepius carried a snake-entwined staff,

and his powers were believed to include

not only healing the sick

but defeating Hades,

the god of the underworld,

and raising the dead to life.

 

As the Hebrew people longed for freedom,

Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh

and it became a snake.

When Pharaoh's sorcerers did the same,

in an act demonstrating God's power and authority,

Aaron’s staff swallowed theirs up.

 

In the Exodus experience,

Moses raised his staff to part the Red Sea,

and used it to strike a rock,

creating a spring for the Israelites.   

 

In Psalm 23

and in the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd,

a staff and a rod symbolize a Lord

who is trustworthy,

strong,

protective of the flock.

The staff became a powerful symbol

of God’s care and guidance. 

 

Some scholars note that shepherds

even notched or marked their crooks

to record and recall special events

and to remind themselves of God’s protection.

 

The staff of wood,

cut from a living tree,

could also symbolize the tree of life,

a line, or axis, connecting God with humanity.

 

So,

in telling the disciples to carry a staff

Jesus was saying much more than,

“Beware of the Dog,”

and “Watch your Step.”

 

Jesus was naming something powerful.

He was claiming something important

for his disciples--

something laden with meaning

and filled with purpose and mission.

 

Jesus was saying to them,

and to us,

Go as my Preachers.

Go as my Healers.

Go as my Prophets.

Go as my Leaders.

Go as my Shepherds.

Go as my Heralds.

Go as Keepers of Memory.  

Go, as Living Trees,

with your roots planted deeply

and your branches stretching to God.

Go,

as ones sent with my divine authority.


So, they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

 

May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts, that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call.

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