We now take a closer look at Jesus’ methods of mission and discipleship. Having been rejected by the people he grew up with in his home town of Nazareth, he based himself at Capernaum on the shore of Lake Galilee, where he preached, taught, and healed extensively, both within the synagogues and in the open air.
He then started to move further afield, making short ‘tours’ of the Galilean countryside, taking a selection of his disciples with him as he went. Today’s reading seems to raise the intensity of the campaign, in which Jesus asked the twelve apostles to accompany him in order to learn from watching him in action. The first phase of discipleship is always to watch the master at work.
Practically, they travelled as a group, along with some women disciples who had been healed or delivered in some way as a result of Jesus’ previous ministry. They probably split up on arrival in a town and stayed in several welcoming homes of locals. Some of these women were from wealthy households and had independent incomes, which they now joyfully placed at Jesus’ disposal. The concept of hospitality was ingrained in the Jewish culture, so the local populations of the towns and villages would have felt duty-bound to provide these travellers with any necessary food and accommodation; nevertheless the addition of these additional funds would have made the tour more flexible. We need today to realise the key importance of generous giving from our incomes for the work of mission – both in our own localities and in the wider world. And we need to practise that doctrine too!
The well-known Parable of the Sower is really more concerned with soil comparisons! The same seed falls onto ‘no soil’ (no chance), ‘rocky soil’ (no root), ‘thorny soil’ (no shoot), and ‘good soil’ (full root and shoot). Fruitful disciples retain the word in their hearts and minds, and then put their beliefs into practice day by day. Do we allow the word ‘house room’ in our lives?
The final events of the chapter recount how Jesus heals a woman without knowing it and raises a dead girl. How do you ‘touch’ Jesus? Clearly not just by pressing against him in a crowd! The woman touched him with her faith and his power brought healing to her 12-year-old illness.
Meanwhile the girl, who was exactly as old as the woman’s illness, fell ill and died. This time, Jesus expected to find faith in her father: “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” (v50). It seems that Jesus needed to remove all those doubters from the room before such faith would work; he himself refused to declare that she was dead (rather, just ‘sleeping’). Once the room was full of people of faith, he was able to raise the girl from the dead with a simple command.