Bible studies on the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace
"Jesus Sends Out the Twelve – On a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace"
by Fernando Enns*
1Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
16 “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
24 “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Jesus´ disciples: sent out as “pilgrims”
Jesus calls and commissions no perfect people! All twelve are called by their names, some still fitted with a suffix that could be easily overlooked (vv.2-4):
- “the sons of Zebedee,” those who strive so much to be the greatest
- Matthew, “the tax collector”
- Thomas, whom we know as “the doubter”
- Even Judas Iscariot, “the one who betrayed him.”
Yes, I can easily see myself in this crowd. The people who are sent out on a “pilgrimage” are not saints, but the sort of characters I find in my own congregation. Obviously, perfection is not a precondition to be sent out on this faith-journey.
Not with empty hands
Pilgrims of “justice and peace”…
God is not only “my God,” but always also the God of the other! Jesus does not send his disciples on a trip to self-discovery. He endows them with “power to force out evil spirits” (v.1). He gives them the strength for the journey to heal the sick, yes, even wake the dead (v.8).
This pilgrimage is about the other! The oppressed, and the oppressor; the victim, and the victimizer. . . All those who are held captive by the evil spirits of injustice and violence. All those who are driven by the demons of greed and envy. All of them shall be healed, some from the burden of fear, which overtakes them because of their wealth; some from the burden of sheer hunger; liberated from the temptation that one must sometimes use force to achieve “a little bit of peace”; healed from the real wounds of violence; liberated from the weakness of one’s own body also, because God wants to bear it; free from the fear of one’s own death, because it blinds one to the great gift of life – life, that remains salvaged by God even in and through death. Empowered by the authority to heal and to liberate, this pilgrimage is to bring justice and peace.
…Participating in the kingdom of God
“As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’” (v.7). So this is the mission: to announce this good news, not at home, to themselves, remaining among the peers in their own congregation, but to hand out this blessing: In Jesus God became human, and with this in-carnation, this pilgrimage of God, the “Kingdom of Heavens” has come near. And as you join God´s pilgrimage, you are already participating in God´s justice and peace!
The most wonderful and simple definition of this kingdom of God comes from Paul: “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Our Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace is the responsive participation in that kingdom of God. “You received without paying, now give without being paid” (v.8) – sola gratia!
Who would not rejoice? Who would not wish to joyfully participate in this pilgrimage? No one goes alone! Not even the disciples. We shall pilgrim together, with as many as possible and ever increasing numbers, those who, inasmuch as we can be liberated from all that (even material) ballast, be liberated from all the worries about what will become of us, also liberated from the hubris that we ourselves could save this world by force and violence. How will that pilgrimage work? Namely, that we – like Christ – turn to the other and thus become “healed healers” (Dorothee Soelle).
To encounter the realities of injustice and violence: the way of the cross
And yet there is Jesus´ warning: “I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves” (v.16). This pilgrimage will not be a nice little walk. “Watch out for people who will take you to court and have you beaten in their meeting places” (v.17). We in the Peace-Church tradition know vaguely about this from our Anabaptist-Mennonite history of martyrdom. People in the sixteenth century in central Europe, who translated this kingdom message into a real life of nonviolence and conscientious objection to any military actions, a life to share all goods, found themselves accused (also by church authorities) as “irresponsible enemies of the state,” “threatening the economic balances” of those days. Even today, conscientious objectors in South Korea end up in jail, 800 every year, treated as criminals! Even today, the campesinos in El Garzál (Colombia), who are fighting for their right to own their land, are threatened by the paramilitaries of the great landowner. Some have been killed. There is no protection by the government. We know very well today´s witnesses of a courageous and costly participation in God´s pilgrimage of justice and peace.
“Don’t think that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came to bring trouble, not peace” (v. 34). Perhaps the most irritating words of Jesus: “Everyone will hate you because of me” (v.22). Jesus is not deceiving his disciples: “Unless you are willing to take up your cross and come with me, you are not fit to be my disciples” (v.38). Suddenly this pilgrimage seems to unfold like a via crucis: so radical, so brutal.
Yet it is precisely here that it is full of promises: “If you give up your life for me, you will surely find it” (v.39). Three times Jesus says, “Do not be afraid!” “When someone arrests you, don’t worry about what you will say or how you will say it … The Spirit from your Father will tell you what to say” (vv.19-20). The conscientious objectors in South Korea and the campesinos in El Garzál tell me that they only started to understand the truth of these promises once they set their feet on the way: “Don’t be afraid of people. They can kill you, but they cannot harm your soul” (v. 28). To this promise they have clung on their way. And they would have realized how little they needed on their way of justice and peace: neither “gold, silver, or copper coins . . . a traveling bag or an extra shirt or sandals or a walking stick” (vv. 9-10)—none of this mattered any longer. The pilgrimage becomes a transformative experience for those who have the courage to follow Jesus´ call.
Change of perspective: how to welcome pilgrims of justice and peace?
Thus far Jesus’ message was to those who are sent, but suddenly it is addressing those who remain at home. Suddenly the issue is how the disciples are to be taken in by those who are to be healed from injustice, who are to be liberated from violence. In my context of Europe, I cannot overlook vv.40-42 in Jesus’ sending message, given the challenge of welcoming – or rejecting – those who seek refuge with us these days. Suddenly the issue is how the “least” are received, those “little ones,” by us who think so greatly of ourselves.
If we who have a home, who have more food and clothes than we need, would give to the very least, who need to survive on a desert journey to escape death and terror, “to drink even a cup of cold water,” then we, too, partake of this reality of God's kingdom of peace and justice and joy! And whoever received the least of these, the so called “little ones,” receives Jesus, and yes, in this way is receiving Godself.
In this interpretation, today´s refugees would become the ambassadors of God's kingdom. It would be they who bring the justice and peace of God to hand, because God wants to meet us in them. By practicing hospitality, would we eventually realize that we ourselves are the recipients, the ones enriched, and blessed? If that is the case, then the scope of our joint resolution at the 10th Assembly in Busan to begin a global, ecumenical Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace would be revealed to us first and foremost through the “least,” the “little ones.” Indeed, it would be a “mission from the margins” as the latest WCC affirmation on mission and evangelism, Together towards Life, emphasizes it.
Maybe not all of us have to embark upon far-away pilgrimages to find peace and justice. Perhaps this pilgrimage of God comes right into our own homes, to liberate us to peace and to justice. The least I will do now is to prepare that cup with cold water. It could well be that God wants to take up residence with me.
Questions for discussion
What are the (spiritual and material) gifts you and your brothers and sisters in your community have received to heal others from the “sickness” of injustice and to liberate others from the “demon” of violence?
Who are the pilgrims of justice and peace that need your hospitality? What is that “cup of cold water” that you could provide?
Ideas for action
Germany has become one of the biggest players in the global arms trade. Our church has joined a network called „Aktion Aufschrei – Stoppt den Waffenhandel” (Action Outcry – Stop Arms Trade). The goal of this network is to urge the German government to stop the arms trade. In my home-city of Hamburg, we specifically point to its international harbor, which plays a key role in shipping arms to so many places, exporting violence.
In our congregation, we have formed a “committee for people seeking refuge” in order to network with other churches, NGOs, and government representatives. Together we learn how to best support men, women, and children who have arrived as refugees in our city and live under difficult conditions in refugee camps. For us, they have become ‚”pilgrims of justice and peace.”
 All quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
* Fernando Enns is a Brazilian-German Mennonite theologian and head of the Theology of Peace Churches Department of Protestant Theology at the University of Hamburg and Professor of Peace Theology and Ethics at the Theological Faculty of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He is cochair of the reference group for the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace and author, most recently, of Ökumene und Frieden.