No one likes to be vulnerable. We build careful systems to ensure that we are not vulnerable. We take out insurance. As nations, we devise social security schemes. Or we invest in security for our homes and offices; nations recruit and train armies and police forces. Vulnerability is bad. Part of the effect of the economic downturn of our times is the fear it brings, fear especially of unemployment. Suddenly we all feel vulnerable.
In the gospel today (Mark 6.7-13) Jesus gives us a different perspective about vulnerability. He sends out his little band of disciples to do his work of preaching and healing. He tells them to go without extra clothes or spare money. They are to depend on the people they move among for their necessities. Their ministry will commend them to the people. If they do not succeed, they will have to move on and find more receptive people elsewhere, who will open their homes to them. In a very real way, this was a call to ministry that would involve vulnerability. Imagine being sent out today to tell people about God's love for them, but being told, go without credit cards, go without suitcases, go and trust in the people of God to nourish you and sustain your ministry.
There is more going on here than a call to a simple lifestyle, though there certainly is that. I think that Jesus is reminding his disciples of his own vulnerability. His footsteps were dogged by spies who noted down his words. The sick, the desperate, the mentally ill, clung to him and asked for healing, so much so that sometimes he had no time to eat. This vulnerability was integral to who Jesus was and what he was doing. For God to take human flesh and come among us required the Son of God to be vulnerable as we are vulnerable: exposed to petty dangers, illness, and yes, the malice of others. We wish it were not so, but without this vulnerability, we would not be human. God in Christ embraces this vulnerability along with our humanity. No wonder the writer of the letter to the Ephesians is staggered by this generosity of God, who, we read ‘chose us in Christ’ (1.4) so that the world might no longer drift away from God, away from the sure source of holiness and goodness, grace and mercy.
Jesus, I think, wants his disciples to embrace this vulnerability and make it a means of ministry. They go without protection. They go in trust, desiring to be of service to others - and this trustfulness, though it may be exploited at times, will touch the hearts of many who hear them. This is what Christ wants of the disciples and indeed of us: a faith in God that will help us overcome our fears, our hesitations, our caution, and reach out in trust to others, by appealing to all that is good in them.