First we need to overcome the mental block of taking today’s gospel too literally. If we think of cults who play with snakes and drink Kool-aid laced with cyanide, we’ll find the passage repulsive.
Another way to think of the gospel is through the lens offered by Irish theologian Donall Dorr. He says that the one word which best describes Jesus’ effect on his friends is “energize.” Some unlikely folks were drawn to him and did extraordinary deeds because of his influence. In this reading from Mark, he gives his friends their marching orders. They respond by proclaiming the good news, confirmed by signs the Lord sends.
The great theologian Thomas Aquinas said, “we can only name God from creatures.” If we want to see the friends of Jesus continuing his work, we need only look around with some sensitivity. In hospitals and clinics, we’ll see the sick touched, treated and recovering. In schools, we’ll see students learning foreign languages. In retirement communities, we’ll see staff and visitors bringing good news and entertainment. On committees and in offices, we’ll see people introducing new angles or creative perspectives on difficult, deep-rooted problems. So Jesus continues to energize all those he holds dear.