Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
These verses from Saint Mark's Gospel present three challenges to Christians today.
First, there is the question of authority. On sabbatical in 1995, I took a course in the history of Pentecostalism in the United States. After an initial, brief survey of the Reformation from Martin Luther to John Wesley, we looked at the amazing, beautiful story of Christian religion in the United States, especially through the Methodist, Holiness and Pentecostal movements, each representing the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries respectively.
When it was all said and done, I concluded that the real issue dividing Catholics and Protestants is not the Eucharist, the pope, the Holy Ghost or the Blessed Mother. It is not the interpretation of scripture or the importance of tradition. It's authority. How do Christians structure authority into our community? Who should have authority and how does one get it? What authority does a leader have? How much authority and what are its limits? How long may one have authority? Who has authority over those in authority?
The Catholic Church has its ancient traditions, codified in Canon Law; the Protestant churches have their own traditions, codified in various ways. In today's gospel we learn that Jesus gave his Twelve authority over unclean spirits after sending them out two by two.
Which brings us to the second challenge, our relations with one another. Jesus sent them out not singly but "two by two." They must work together. When they travel, pray or cast out demons they do it together. When they speak to crowds of people, one must speak and the other must be silent, presumably listening to and supporting the other. So even though each has authority, it is limited by the constant presence and companionship of the other. They cannot approach their ministry as "individuals"; their preaching and healing is never a "personal expression," but a faithful rendering of the Gospel.
Finally, there is the challenge of "nothing for the journey." Although the disciples have great authority they cannot use it to provide for their own material wants. They should rely on strangers who may choose to support them. If the Holy Spirit directs them to famine-stricken territory, they will suffer famine with the people there. If they are greeted with great enthusiasm but no material support, they'll go away hungry. (It happens.)
Francis arrived in Rome in 1209 with nothing and left with nothing but the Pope's permission to announce the Gospel. He and his friars would take "nothing for the journey." Pope Innocent II, the most powerful pope in the history of the Church, welcomed Saint Francis of Assisi because he recognized that, for all the Church's political, economic, military, social and intellectual power, it was rotten to the core. The mendicant reformation of the 13th century was effective precisely because the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, Servites and others carried so little baggage.
These three challenges still invite Jesus' disciples to effective evangelization while the world waits for their arrival.