“Living with” People

In this week’s Gospel (Mark 6:7-13), we read about Jesus sending twelve of his disciples out into the surrounding area to heal and to cast out demons as he has been doing. He is very clear that they are to bring nothing with them except for the tunic on their backs, the sandals on their feet, and a walking staff—no food, no money, not even a bag in which to carry supplies for the journey.

This may seem like a peculiar command for Jesus to give those who are going out with “authority over the unclean spirits” to spread the word and work of Jesus. Wouldn’t Jesus want to make sure that his disciples could provide for themselves on their journey? Wouldn’t his disciples be in a better position to heal the sick they encounter if they have a full belly?

Jesus did not think so. Jesus wanted his disciples to depend on others, to become one with the people they would serve. Without money, food, or extra clothing, the disciples would be forced to rely on the hospitality and kindness of those they go to serve. In fact, they will have to live with the people they are helping. This insures that the disciples will not be able to present themselves as somehow better than those they serve. It also insures that the disciples will have to enter into relationship with and thus come to understand the lives and needs of those they serve. As healers, they will not be able to hold themselves apart from or live more extravagantly than those in need. Rather, the disciples will come to know the pain and suffering of others by living amidst it.

It would be easy to write off this short paragraph of scripture as applying only to those called to do missionary work. That certainly would let most of us off the hook! I, for one, am not planning on moving to a different country in order to help people. I respect mightily those who dedicate their lives to the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged people, but my family, my work, and my life are here in the United States. I feel called to be here, writing for this blog, teaching, raising my children.

But here is the catch: being a missionary does not only mean going to live abroad, although that is part of its meaning. All of us, as disciples of Jesus, are commissioned—that is, have a mission—to go and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. We may not have to go far. We may be called to go to our friends, our family, or the poor, outcasts, and disadvantaged people in our local communities. But we must go and find ways of spreading the love of God.

And what this Gospel passage tells us is that the way to do this is by being in relationship with—by “living with”—people in need. How do we do this? Our “living with” others need not be literal. That is, we do not need to move with those we are serving. But we can “live with” them by getting to know them, by asking them questions about their experience, by listening to how they understand the world and their pain, by working with them to alleviate their pain and suffering, and by treating them as human beings. When we “live with” people, we do not set ourselves up as better than them or hold ourselves apart from them. When we “live with” people, we allow ourselves to be changed by the relationships we develop.

To whom is your mission? In other words, who is God calling you to “live with”?

Who do you help or serve? How do you enter into relationship with these people?

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