FRIEND OR FOE?

In Luke 9, Jesus brings the twelve chosen followers together for a team-talk.

They are given authority to cast out evil spirits and heal people to demonstrate the Kingdom of God that Jesus was proclaiming. He told them to spread out to all the towns and villages.

He then gave some specific travel advice. “Don’t take anything – no bag, no food and if someone welcomes you, stay at their house while in that town or village. If you go somewhere and they refuse to welcome you shake the dust from your feet and move on”. 1

Firstly, it is important to note, Jesus appointed His closest followers. The Complete Jewish Bible reads ‘Yeshua called his twelve talmidim”. When we read “disciple” or “follower” in our New Testament versions, the Hebrew word is “talmid” or “talmidim” in the plural.

There really is no equivalent concept in contemporary Western thinking for a “talmid”. It was a Jew who voluntarily endeavours to fully identify with his or her master in all areas of life–who dedicates his or her life to become like the master in every way. There is an analogy of a trade apprentice who spends years with the master craftsman, but even this falls short. “Talmid” dedicate themselves to the task of living, eating, sleeping, working, playing, loving, suffering, bleeding, and breathing every moment with God so that His deepest purpose becomes theirs, or better, that they become His purpose. The Hebrew concept for this deepest purpose and desire is called “sebyana”, and aligning oneself with God’s “sebyana” does not come overnight. After years of walking with Jesus as his “talmidim”, his closest companions still didn’t get it at times. 2

In the book of Matthew, Jesus also instructed the twelve to “only go to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep”. At this point, Jesus is yet to fulfil the Law and (as Zechariah has prophesied) “cleanse Israel”. “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.” This was God’s plan for Israel and is mentioned by Matthew because his writings concentrate on the Jewish people. As we will read, it also explains why Jesus told them not to take anything.

Jesus gave them instructions that sound radical to us: “Take nothing for the journey – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts…”

Taking this passage literally, some Christians have gone with little or no money to places that don’t have the same high regard for hospitality that existed in Jesus’ day. And even though God can provide for them, it seems clear that Jesus wasn’t asking his disciples to count on daily miracles to sustain them. Instead, He knew that the “talmidim” of an esteemed rabbi would normally be warmly welcomed in any Jewish town or village. Any community that failed to treat His disciples with honour deserved to be left behind. In a land without police, social welfare, or insurance agencies to provide for people, mutual dependence was vital to survival. 3

These twelve were the close “talmidim” of Jesus. To reject the rabbi followers was to reject His teaching. And rejection came with a serious curse “leave the place and shake its dust from your feet”.

Dust was a damnation featuring in God’s first curse. “Then the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed. You will crawl on your belly, grovelling in the dust as long as you live.” To the man, He said, “For you were made from dust, and to dust, you will return.”

The land of Israel can be a very dusty place where rain is truly a blessing. Dust means a lack of life and growth. Dust was formally put on the head when in grief and repentance. As we read a few weeks back, it was believed evil spirits lived in deserts and near graves. 4   

Matthew 10:15 goes on to say “I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day”. This is a city that was completed raised to the ground by the wrath of God. A story well-known by the Jews.

What can the modern Western reader take from this passage?
This event is recorded in the middle of the gospels. Why do you think Jesus sent the twelve out at that point? To spread His message quicker or prehaps to train the twelve?

1. Bible: Events recorded in Mark 6:7-13 / Matthew 10:5-15 / Luke 9:1-6
2. Website: TALMIDIM by Dave Brisbin Link
3. Book: Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith Link
4. Website: Jewish Concepts: Demons & Demonology Link

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