15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Why can’t skeletons lift weights? Because they’re all bone and no muscle.
In a way, Jesus is asking us to be like those skeletons when he orders his disciples to “take nothing for their journey except a staff, no bread, no bag, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.” (Mk 6:8) What might be the purpose of Jesus’ command?
At its fundamental level, Jesus is challenging his followers to be missionary, to be men and women on the move, persons who are willing to go wherever God needs them and to do whatever God may be asking of them! As an itinerant preacher himself, Jesus knew that bringing too many things on a journey, especially by foot, can bog a person down and slow down a person’s ability to move easily and freely at a moment’s notice. He’s also fully aware that the more things a person has, the more temptation there is for someone else to steal that person’s belongings. And so oftentimes, the person owning the possessions has to expend a lot of time and attention to protect what they own. This also may have the effect of prompting a missionary to choose to stay in safe areas or to remain only around those with whom the missionary has already established a bond. Thus, the missionary disciple may avoid going into unfamiliar or dangerous neighborhoods to preach the gospel to those who, perhaps MOST need to hear the Good News of salvation.
But Jesus doesn’t tell us to bring nothing whatsoever, does he?! No, he tells his disciples to bring the essentials: a staff, a belt, sandals and a tunic. Indeed, that list included items that were of vital importance, if one were walking from town to town, or village to village, and were relying on the hospitality of others once arriving at the destination. For Jesus’ disciples today, though the list would be different. He’d be challenging us to think through what’s essential to our missionary mandate and calling in 2021!
Today, we often don’t live in walking distance to one another. Do we need a car, a train, a plane to get to where we need to go? Do we need a laptop or tablet? Do we need a Bible or other church books, to spread God’s word most effectively? Do we need a guitar, flute, violin or some music books to assist us in our mission? Are there specific professional items that would assist us in accomplishing the mission with which we’ve been entrusted by the Lord? The list of essentials may vary from person to person, but what ought NOT to vary, is our determination to slim down to the essentials of what we need, so as to keep our bodies, minds, and souls spiritually fit, adaptable, and ready for whatever it is the Lord may ask us to do and wherever it is the Lord may ask us to go.
On a deeper level, Jesus’ command to travel lightly also is a command to divest ourselves of whatever may weigh us down, spiritually or emotionally, —-whatever may keep us from being the persons God has called us to be. Today, we call it emotional baggage. So, sometimes, a cluttered room may be a sign of a cluttered mind, of a person who perhaps hasn’t dealt with some traumatic life event and has accumulated a lot of possessions as a security blanket or as a means of shielding oneself off from the wider world. Sometimes a cluttered room is a sign of a broken relationship whose loss has not been truly overcome. Sometimes having a lot of clutter around, becomes the means of easily distracting ourselves from what we know, DEEP DOWN, needs to be done, and is being used as an excuse for inaction.
As missionary disciples, we must be willing to work on getting rid of our emotional baggage —of dealing with it — so that we can be emotionally open and available and sensitive to those whom the Lord sends us. It means too, being willing to be vulnerable to another’s anger and guarded stances and open to sharing with others our own personal struggles in life.
Such a freedom, when it is perceived by others, may enable the other to relate to us more easily and may begin to remove any barriers that may have impeded the development of an authentic relationship.
Jesus’ mandate to be missionary is also a clarion call to resist the temptation to perennially isolate ourselves from others or to remain in our own safe, little bubbles. The lockdowns we all endured because of the pandemic, have given us all an experience of such isolation and, for some, may have had the unintended side-effect of making us prefer being alone, staying at home, watching mass on TV or online, or cherishing our solitude all the more. Indeed, this may be the preference of many who have introverted personalities.
While there indeed are a small percentage of Christians who are called to live a radical solitude, such as the Desert Father and Mothers, or to enter a monastery and take a vow of stability to a particular community, this calling has not been given to the majority of Christians. Jesus intended his Good News to be shared from person to person, in circumstances that we could, perhaps, never imagine! Jesus intended our faith to be nurtured too, by a community of believers who would come together in person for the celebration of the Word of God and the reception of his Body and Blood! —People from all walks of life, all socio-economic levels, all different ages coming together as church to glorify God and to be strengthened and empowered for mission beyond these church walls. That’s the vision God has given us! We can never be content with remaining all alone. We can never be satisfied with meeting just our own personal needs. No, we have to enter into dialogue and relationship with one another! We have to be willing to get to know new people and to experience new cultures and different perspectives of our world! We have to be willing to get our hands dirty as missionary disciples of the Lord!
One of the most vital aspects of being a missionary disciple is developing a deep and long-lasting prayer life. For it’s by prayer that we continually bring into our consciousness this sobering truth: that ALL that we have, ALL that we are, ALL that we do, is futile without God directing every thought, word, and feeling that we have —without God leading us to where he wants us to be and giving us the inspiration to act in His name! Such a consciousness is indeed only achieved by cultivating an authentic prayer life.
Related to cultivating a life of prayer, is another dimension of Jesus’ command that bears some reflection: his omission of food and money from his list of essentials. For many of us, those items would have been the first things we would have named. But Jesus has a deeper purpose in mind in his omission of food and money. He wanted his disciples to depend —not on themselves or their own human resources for their physical, bodily needs— but on Him! Sure, Jesus knew that he’d put people in his disciples’ lives who would provide food and shelter for them along the way! Sure, Jesus knew that his disciples would be afraid to go without these items! But that’s where prayer would come in! When they would feel MOST alone, when they would feel MOST afraid, when they would feel the MOST vulnerable, it’s then that God would step in and provide for their daily needs.
In the Middle East, hospitality is a big virtue! That’s why Jesus says that, if someone were to refuse them hospitality, it would be tantamount to refusing God himself and such a lack of generosity would not go unpunished or forgotten by the Lord. As a church community, we too must be a welcoming, hospitable place for all to come, with their scars and stars, with their failures and triumphs, both the stranger and the long-time member. As Church, we must be a soft place to land for the one who’s been having a hard time meeting the daily necessities of life and seek to give them hope in the new life God offers to each one of us. As church, we must take Jesus’ words to heart and truly live as his missionary disciples.
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