Sunday, July 11, 2021

Take Nothing

Jesus instructed them to take nothing for the journey [Mark 6:7-13].


I am one of those people who finds travel – whether for a long or even a short distance – stressful. And I always stress over whether I have everything I need. Before I moved back to NY last January after 10 years as a pastor in Knoxville, TN, I gave away or threw away books, clothes, and lots of other things that I had accumulated in my 70+ years, but I still ended up bringing a lot with me – a lot more than I need, a lot more certainly than Jesus appears to have intended his followers to take along wherever they went. In general, whenever I go anywhere, I usually worry whether I have enough, which, of course, causes me to accumulate even more. And, as we all know, the amount of baggage one brings actually tends to increase along the way. So not only do I usually start with too much, I frequently finish with even more - this is the kind of problem that can only arise in a society such as ours, where most of us already have too many possessions to begin with.


Of course, even Jesus allowed his followers to have some things. He allowed a walking stick and sandals, which I suppose even he considered essential when going on a journey. But nothing else. I suppose the command to take nothing else was intended to stress the special nature of the journey – its urgency and importance - allowing no time for distractions and requiring complete commitment, as well as a whole lot of trust in the One who was sending them. Jesus seemed to be leading the Twelve into a kind of guided insecurity, sending them out as missionaries, without most of the props they would have been familiar with and normally might have depended on – separated from the routine of ordinary things in order to embrace fully the new reality of God’s kingdom.


Obviously, this was no ordinary move, let alone some sort of vacation trip, that the apostles were being sent on. What it was, in fact, was a kind of practice run for their future work as full-time missionaries. That mission, which they were being prepped for, is never finished (at least not in this life). Hence the command to travel light, lest constant accumulation weigh us down and get in the Kingdom of God’s way as it moves out into our world.


Of course, we are not all – or even most of us – called to be missionaries in the same way that they were.  But we are all part of that new kingdom of God that the apostles were appointed to proclaim, all expected to adopt the kingdom of God as our standard for how to live. So, what does that say about our relationship with things?


Obviously, no one – not even an apostle - ever wants to start out on a trip with insufficient supplies. Jesus himself makes precisely that point elsewhere in the Gospel. So, Jesus’ point here is, I suspect, not so much about the things themselves, which (whether many or few) are, after all, just things. No created thing is evil in itself, but all things can become obstacles if we let them. If we get focused exclusively on how many things we need to shed, then those things are still driving the discussion as surely as if we were carrying them all around with us.


But, if we are not to rely on things, then what can we rely on?  Obviously, the 12 were in some sense relying on Jesus, who gave them authority over unclean spirits. But that is the big picture. And, while the big picture may matter most, we don’t live just in the big picture, but also in the day-by-day, here-and-now, small stuff. And that is as true in our mission to advance the Kingdom of God as in any other human endeavor, in which we must depend on one another. So Jesus sent them out two by two, forcing them to learn to support one another and rely – not on individual talents and accomplishments – but on one another.


It is together, not as competitors but as a community, that we accomplish what we value most in human life – in our families, in our work, in society as a whole. And it is together, not as competitors but as a community, that the Kingdom of God grows and makes a difference in our world.

"We are always capable of going out of ourselves towards the other.,” wrote Pope Francis in his environmental encyclical Laudato Si’. “Unless we do this,” he warns, “other creatures will not be recognized for their true worth; we are unconcerned about caring for things for the sake of others; we fail to set limits on ourselves in order to avoid the suffering of others or the deterioration of our surroundings.” [208] 

Homily for the 15th Sunday on Ordinary Time, Church of Saint Paul the Apostle, NYC, July 11, 2021.

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