It happened as I was leading a group on a trip to the Holy Land. Every other person in the group was happily claiming their bags. I waited, eager to see mine come rolling down the conveyer belt. Then the belt stopped. There were no more bags. My heart sank. How would I manage without the changes of clothing, the toiletries and the books that I had so carefully packed? Three days went by before the airline found my suitcase and delivered it to me. Meanwhile others in the group shared with me whatever they had. It was humbling for me to put on others’ clothes and to rely on others’ generosity. Yet their acts of unselfishness created an instant bond; I was not the only one sharing from my “expertise.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples are sent on their first foray in mission. Missionary journeying is never solitary; it is necessarily a communal endeavor. Jesus imparts to them his authority over unclean spirits and sends them out in pairs. He then gives them very specific instructions about what they are to pack—nothing! He does not say to travel lightly. He insists that they take nothing with them except a walking stick and sandals on their feet, just as the fleeing Israelites did at the Exodus (Ex 12:11). As they proclaim liberation they are to take no food, no bag, no money, no change of clothing. They are to go completely empty-handed.
This is a totally different model of mission than one in which the persons sent consider themselves to have a whole cache of “goods” to share with others who have nothing. It is just the reverse. A Christian missionary is to go out needy and vulnerable, so that there can be a mutual exchange of gifts between missionaries and the people to whom they are sent. Missionaries are to put on the clothes of others and eat whatever the local people share, thus becoming one with those with whom they share the good news.
Sharing the Gospel is always a two-way street. The message preached in such an exchange is that of a crucified and risen Christ who makes apparent that God’s power works through vulnerability and mutuality. These kinds of exchanges do not take place in an instant. Jesus instructs his disciples to stay in one home so that the relationships can deepen and grow. It is also a warning not to look around for the best accommodations. A missionary is content to share whatever is offered.
Jesus warns his disciples that not all will accept the Gospel message. Wherever there is sustained hostility toward them, the disciples are to “shake the dust” from their feet and move on. Christian missionaries are ready to experience tribulation, but they do not go looking for it.
A thread runs through all three readings today: that divine initiative calls people to participate in the mission. Amos protests that he never belonged to a guild of prophets, nor ever wanted to be a prophet. He was a simple shepherd tending his flocks and his sycamore trees when God called him forth to prophesy. The reading from Ephesians highlights that it is by God’s choice that believers, both Jews and Gentiles, belong to God and share the good news. In the Gospel, it is Jesus who summons the Twelve and sends them on mission. Christian missionaries are not self-appointed. The call to mission is part and parcel of every Christian’s baptismal call. The Twelve symbolize how the whole renewed people of God participates in the mission, bringing healing and restoration to any who will welcome a needy bearer of the good news.