We’ve come to the end of our series of services looking at the miracles of Jesus. So where have we been over the summer? We’ve considered two kinds of miracles and the teaching that Jesus did as a result of these miracles. His feeding of more than 5,000 people was born out of his compassion but it was used as an illustration later when he talked about himself as ‘The Bread of Life’, without which we cannot truly have the kind of life that God wants for us. And then we read some healing miracles. The man who was crippled and wasn’t able to get to the pool in time when the waters were first stirred up. The man who asked for help because he couldn’t do it on his own and that theme continued into a discussion about two other healings, Jairus’ daughter and the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak in the crowd. Both illustrated sharply Jesus’ care for the underdog and the social outcast and our responsibility to ask for God’s help when we’re in any kind of trouble. These stories urge us to rely on our faith in all things.
Each week our basket contained something that led us to the story but today it’s empty reflecting this reading from Mark’s Gospel. Jesus’ sending out of the twelve, two by two. They’d seen what faith could do in the hands of their Lord and Master, and now he was asking them to do likewise! “Off you go,” he said “and here’s what I want you to take with you.” Or rather, “here’s what I don’t want you to take with you!” It seems to be all about sartorial elegance but of course it’s not.
Palestinian Jews in Jesus’s day didn’t wear suits or jeans or shorts. The fashion if you like, at the time comprised of five main items. The underwear consisted of a kind of simple shift called a chiton or sindon. When you went to buy your shift, it came as a long piece of cloth, folded in half and stitched down the side leaving holes for the arms with no hole for the head. The purchaser would make that hole him or herself depending on how it was wanted, wide or narrow. That was to prove that the tunic was new and hadn’t come from the Palestinian version of ARCAS and to allow women and men to have a different type of neckline depending on whether the woman was a nursing mother or not. Very sensible! But what was Jesus saying? Well basically, no spare undies. Nothing to change into. They were to rely on the generosity of those people they visited.
On top of the shift was the cloak called a himation. This was used a bit like a highlanders plaid, it was a cloak by day and a blanket by night. It was generally made out of two pieces of cloth with a seam down the back, each piece seven feet long and two and a quarter feet wide. The most carefully made ones were made out of one piece of cloth, like Jesus’s robe. Remember the movie? Or of course you can read about it in John chapter 19 verse 23 where we hear about the soldiers dividing up Jesus’ clothes at the foot of the cross but drawing lots for his himation because it was seamless and they didn’t want to tear it.
On top of all that and holding it all together came the girdle. This was a very useful sort of thick belt that could be doubled over so that you could store things safely tucked into your belt or hitch your robes up if you needed to ride or to run. But Jesus said they were to carry no money and no food. They were to rely on others for that too.
To top off the outfit was a head-dress, different of course for men or women, it was a square folded diagonally and kept in place by a band of semi-elastic wool. The purpose of this was as a protection from the sun. You can see a modern day version of this whole outfit in traditional Arab dress as still worn today in the Middle East. Proof I suppose of the practicality of the dress for a desert-type of environment. The final flourish for the outfit was of course the sandals. A very simple type of shoe made out of a flat piece of leather or wood or pleated grass and held on by thongs that could be tied onto the person’s foot but clearly the dust of the road would not be prevented from soiling their bare feet. The dust of unwelcoming villages were to be shaken off as they left.
So our Palestinian Jew is now dressed and ready to go, apart from his wallet or bag, often described by the Greek word pera . The pera was usually made of a single skin with a strap on each side making a kind of shoulder bag that could contain food for a few days, raisins, olives, a little bread or cheese. But it would also be the kind of bag that priests or prophets might carry, a sort of collecting bag, and at each house they visited they would be given an offering of food or clothing for the temple, we do the same kind of thing here in the Church each week!
Jesus was sending the twelve out in two’s with only enough to cover their modesty, no spare clothes, no bag for food and no money…only their faith in him to rely on.
And so Jesus was telling his disciples how they were to present themselves to the folk and the villages they visited. Their hallmark was to be simplicity, complete trust and generosity. Their job was to give rather than to get, to teach and to heal but not to seek any aggrandisement or power and to keep on moving from place to place, staying only to do what they could in faith. And in all things….
“In Heavenly Love Abiding.”
The first half of today’s reading told us how Jesus wanted his disciples to travel as they left in their twos. These final two verses tell us what they actually did on their travels. They brought a message and they healed and helped. They healed the sick and helped people to turn their lives around.
It was the right time, they couldn’t have gone earlier in Jesus’ mission because they simple didn’t have enough understanding. They had plenty of knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures but the Gospel of Jesus Christ helped them to re-interpret the message for their own day and time. I think it was C.S Lewis that said that the Hebrew Scriptures, although they have much of value that stands alone, should always be read prayerfully through the lens of the New Testament, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So the disciples were ready to go out with a new and fresh message. What message? They didn’t have a book to take with them or any teaching materials. They simply told people what Jesus had told them and that message was one of love and acceptance and compassion. The sick and the sad and the rejected were all welcome, little children, women, lepers, cripples. The message for us is the same today. God loves us all and is faithful to us, he cares for our bodily needs as well as our spiritual needs and because of that message there is a response demanded of each one of us. The response the disciples demanded of the people they preached the Gospel to, was repentance. What did that mean in practical terms? Well it meant a complete turn around for most people. Think of it in today’s terms. What would an acceptance of the Gospel do for someone who was tied up in tricky financial dealings? They would have to own up and stop and try to make good what they had done. Would that cover tax avoidance and risky trading with other people’s money, maybe you can decide? What about our politicians and celebrities? They might have to re-examine the way they lived their lives. Were they people of integrity, they might ask themselves? Would that cover, bending the truth, cheating on their husbands or wives, getting drunk regularly or taking drugs, influencing youngsters to the extent that they follow their lead? Would that go against Jesus’ teaching that urged us not to lead children astray, not to harm any of his little ones? “Suffer the little children to come unto me for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
What does that mean for each of us, you will have to decide that for yourselves. Repentance is not necessarily a one off event but a way of living.
So, back to Palestine. The Disciples brought teaching that demanded that people revolutionise the way they lived their lives, a complete turnaround from anything that brought God into disrepute. And they healed the sick. How did they do that? Well they used the time-honoured method of anointing with oil. It was an old cure, a traditional middle-eastern cure for all ills. The Greek doctor Galen said, “Oil is the best of all instruments for healing diseased bodies.” Yes, it was faith healing but it was not done to make a spectacle or to bamboozle people. The disciples used something that was familiar to the people of the day but it was their faith in Jesus Christ that gave the old cure a new efficacy.
In today’s terms. Are you a doctor or a nurse or a carer or a counsellor or a banker or a cleaner or a cook or a minister or an engineer or a tax officer or a manager or a teacher or whatever? If your skills, whatever they might be, are combined with a firm faith in Jesus Christ and an adherence to the Gospel you will bring something new to any of these tasks. You will bring integrity and honesty and humility and love to everything you do.
“Behold, Behold, I make all things new,
beginning with you and starting from today”
Let us Pray.
Forgive us Loving Father
When we think only of our own comfort
And forget those who are sick or weary or sad
Forgive us when we let you down in our everyday lives
When we judge others harshly
When we indulge in hurtful gossip
When we avoid people we don’t like or disapprove of
Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us x 2
Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world
Grant us your peace
Take us Lord Jesus, just as we are and remake us
That we might serve you as we ought, love you and each other as we should.