The Wisdom’s in the Details

By Sarah Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 6:1-13

1 He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.


You may know the expression, “the devil is in the details.” This well-known expression is one of warning: we are to pay attention to the details in our life, for they can be the seeds of discord and evil that spring up later.

Today’s gospel reading is similarly entreating us to pay close attention. Jesus sends his disciples out two by two with specific instructions. Jesus gives his disciples a list of items that they are not to bring on their journey, along with the instructions that they are not to put on two tunics. I had always assumed Jesus meant that the disciples should not bring two tunics. Yet, if Jesus only meant they could not bring a change of clothes, why not include that in the list of other items that they were not to bring? According to St. Augustine’s commentary on this passage: “What counsel is conveyed to them by this? They ought to walk not in duplicity, but in simplicity.”

Now, this may be splitting hairs. It may be that Jesus was merely ensuring the disciples did not try to get around the “no bag” rule by piling changes of clothing on their person. (Anyone who has ever tried to fly without checking a bag can appreciate this strategy.) And yet, just as the devil can slither into the tiny details, so too can the wisdom of God. The apostles had to wear all they had on the surface, as if Superman were sent out without his Clark Kent clothes to conceal his true identity and mission. Indeed, these super men were in actuality much more like Clark Kent, yet were given great power to do mighty works. Thanks be to God for the apostles, and for St. Augustine who reminds us that when we encounter a familiar passage, we should look a little closer at the details. We are likely to discover yet another layer of meaning that is truly awesome.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bangor, Maine
The Diocese of Saint Davids (Church in Wales)


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