Mark 6:7-13, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them. (Mk. 6:11)
Our Gospel today speaks of the mission of the Twelve. They are sent to perform the threefold task: to exorcise the evil spirits, to heal the sick and to preach repentance. This threefold missionary duty reflects Jesus’ mission also in the Gospel according to Mark. To facilitate their preaching ministry, they need to travel light. No extra baggage, no extra burden. They need to travel two by two as a sign of communal and ecclesial dimension of the mission. They shall depend also their sustenance on the generosity of the people. And, when they face rejection, they shall shake the dust off their feet as a symbolic judgment against those who reject them. In ancient time, the Jews shake the dust off their feet when they reenter the Israel soil from the Gentile territories, as a sign of disowning and disapproval of the Gentiles nations.
I am presently having a clinical pastoral education in one of the hospitals in Metro Manila. The program trains me to become a good and compassionate chaplain. One of the basic tasks of a chaplain is to visit the patients, and during our visit, we are to listen to the patients and journey with them as a companion of the sick. To a certain extent, I feel that I am participating in the mission of the twelve Jesus’ disciples, especially in the ministry of healing the sick. However, unlike Jesus’ disciples, I am aware that I do not have the gift of miraculous healing. I often pray for it, together with the patients, but so far there has been no instantaneous healing, and patients continue to struggle with their sickness. However, the healing is not limited only to physical and biological aspects. It is holistic and includes the emotional and spiritual healing. Our doctors, nurse, and other hospital staffs have done their best to cure their patients’ illness, or at least to help them to bear their illness with dignity. I do believe that they are essentially and primarily Jesus’ co-workers in the ministry of healing. However, with so much load work they carry and limited time and energy, they have to focus on what they are trained for. The chaplains are there to fill in the gaps, to tie the loose ends, to attend to the emotional and spiritual needs.
In my several visits, I am grateful that many are welcoming of my presence. At times, however, I feel also unwelcome. During this kind of moment, I am tempted to “shake the dust off my feet” as the testimony against them, as the disciples were instructed. However, on second thought, I try to understand why the patient is not so welcoming. Perhaps they are in pain. Perhaps they need rest. Perhaps the medication affects their emotional disposition. Perhaps they still have some serious issues that they need to deal with. With this awareness, I cannot simply judge them as the “bad guy”. Trying to understand them and empathize with them, I also “shake the dust off my feet”, but this time, it is not as testimony against them, but it is to shake the “dust” of misunderstanding, rash judgment, and apathy. A chaplain is one who carries the mission of Christ to bring healing, and if I address rejection and difficulty with anger and hatred, then I just create more pain and illness.
Whether we are medical professionals or not, all of us are called to participate in this healing ministry of Jesus Christ. All of us are wounded and in pain with so many problems and issues we have in life. Thus, it is our call to bring healing to our families, to our friends, to our society, to our natural environment, and to our Church. This begins with our willingness to “shake the dust off our feet”, the dust of fear and wrong pre-judgment, the dust of rash emotional reactions in the face of challenging situations.