It's never easy to decide what to take with you on holiday; with limited baggage space, there are some items that don't make the cut, others that might possibly come in handy at some point just about get squeezed in somewhere. But if you were about to go on a long journey and were drawing up a list of the things to take there are some essentials that you wouldn't even think of overlooking. Your wallet, for example. Or a bag to put some clothes in. Or enough layers to keep you warm...

All of which makes Jesus' travel advice to the 12 disciples in Mark 6:8-9 unorthodox to say the least! Read on though and we start to see some logic behind this apparently bizarre command. Given the physical needs of the twelve, if people did not receive them into their home and thereby demonstrate acceptance of their message of repentance (v11a), then the twelve would be forced to reject them and move on (v11b).

Sandwiched between the sending out (6:7-13) and returning of the twelve (6:30) is a connected story about Herod (we've seen Mark do that before!). Herod's initial response to John's message that he should repent (ring any bells?) of marrying his brother's wife Herodias isn't altogether discouraging; after all, he 'heard him gladly' and he 'kept John safe' (v20) despite Herodias' desire to kill him (v19). Nevertheless, Herod's failure to repent ultimately leads to his downfall - eventually Herodias, who Herod has not given up, gets her wish. Herod, who gets himself into a right mess of a situation, ends up having John executed; which obviously means he can no longer listen to John's message.

The point of the filling of the sandwich (6:17-29) then is the same as the outsides (6:7-13, 30); its not enough just to hear the message, a response of repentance is required. Failure to repent leads to rejection; the message is taken away in judgement (think back to 4:10-12, 24-25...).

Digging a little deeper though, we begin to see a deeper problem with Herod which we've seen other people have in this section of Mark. In 6:14-15, just as they were back in 6:2, people are seeking an explanation of why Jesus is able to do such incredible miracles. Various theories as to his identity are suggested: John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet...Herod plumps for John the Baptist. Wrong answer, clearly. But if we've read 6:20 carefully, we shouldn't be surprised that Herod gets it wrong. After all, he had a problem of understanding even when John was preaching to him. Not only was he 'greatly perplexed by John's teaching, notice that he also 'feared' John.

That word 'fear' seems a little bit of an odd description at first - that is, until we remember that that's exactly how people had been responding in each of the passages in 4:35-6:6. Back then, whether it was situations that people were fearing or Jesus himself, the common denominator seemed to be that people were responding in fear because they didn't understand who Jesus was (think of the disciples question in 4:41, for example), and so at the same time didn't have faith in him (apart from a couple of individuals).

So Herod's problem is more that just un-repentance. At a deeper level, we see that his problem of un-repentance is in some way linked to a problem of not understanding, particularly not understanding who Jesus is.

And that leaves us with a number of important questions: given that we thought the disciples were insiders who were listening to Jesus, how come they don't understand who Jesus is? Should we be worried about them? Why is it that people don't understand who Jesus is when it seems so obvious? How is this problem of not understanding who Jesus is going to be solved?

All of which are great questions to have in mind as we continue in this section of Mark's gospel...

Questions for application

  • What is repentance not? What does repentance not look like in practice (for the RML group member, for example!)?
  • Why is un-repentance so dangerous?
  • Is there anything in your life you've been convicted of that you're not repenting of at the moment?