The story in Mark has more messages in it than you can shake a stick at. First, Jesus sends the disciples out two by two. Why? Wouldn’t it be more efficient and cover more ground if you sent them out individually? I think there are two reasons for this. Jesus has given the disciples a daunting task. It would be easy to get discouraged. Having an encourager along is important. Second, if I were out healing people by myself, it would be easy to start taking all the credit myself. Having someone to hold me accountable is important. Part of the reason we worship together is to encourage each other and hold each other accountable.
Then Jesus gives instructions on what to take to accomplish the task. If Jesus were sending me, by the time he said “authority over unclean spirits” I would be starting my packing list. Food, clothing, transportation, arrange lodging, cash, toiletries and, you know what they say: Visa, don’t leave home without it. Then Jesus says, no, take only a walking stick and sandals. Wow. That is where you find out about trust and obedience. Don’t I know better than Jesus? Do I really trust Christ’s judgment? Will I really only take a stick and shoes? Wouldn’t it be smarter if I just snuck a few extra things in a back pack? Would this be the point where I try to find someone who will do this for me? Or will I trust and obey. I know that Christ loves me, that He will not leave me and He will equip me for the task at hand.
And the task. Preach repentance, heal the sick and drive out demons. Drive out demons? Really? Is there such a thing? Where will I get the power to deal with something like this? Is this like spiritual warfare? How will I recognize a demon? You are asking me to believe in and deal with something beyond my power of observation. I would much rather deal with things I can see and understand. At this point, doubt and fear would creep in and my eyes would probably be off of Jesus and on to the worry demon. I would lose focus on the task and begin to flounder and sink into a pit of self pity. This is not fair. Shouldn’t I have a demon-whacking stick, not a walking stick? How easy it is to rob us of our courage to serve Christ. This is where faith is tested and comes in to play. Isn’t that what faith is about? Believing in something beyond our ability to see or understand. Believing that, through Christ, we can do anything.
I look at my hand and I see skin and finger nails (and hair and age spots - sigh). However, I know there is more beneath that I cannot see. Bone, muscle, joints, blood, nerves. How do I know? Well, I took biology and anatomy, but I can see actions. My hand opens, closes, touches, grasps. I may not see what is causing these things, but I can see what is happening. Same with demons. And Christ’s power over them. You don’t have to look far in the world to find some pretty horrible and frightening things. Addiction, greed, hate, violence, cruelty, racism. Thankfully we also have lots of examples of people conquering those demons in Christ’s name. Still it is hard to trust God in these things.
My prayer today is to keep the focus on Jesus. To be open to Christ’s instructions. Not to worry about supplies, but to know He will supply what is needed to accomplish the task. Whether the task is to drive out a demon or to simply share a moment, a meal, a smile or hold a grieving hand. Whatever the task, we can do anything through Christ.
By Daniel Patrick O"Reilly