When going on a mission journey, what do you bring with you? Jesus has the best but also the most controversial answer.
Having covered nearly 15,000 miles on my sabbatical as rector of my parish for over 22 years, I think I am reasonably accomplished when it comes to art of packing. On that trip across these United States, I brought only one duffle bag, albeit a significantly large duffle bag, and I brought my laptop in a case, which also held a power supply, several different kinds of USB cables, extra batteries and even a router for those times when there was only one internet connection in the room. Hook up the router, and voila. . . Kathy and I could go wireless even in a really cheap hotel.
Is it any wonder that I should be astounded when Jesus says to those men and women he is sending out on their first missionary trip:
Take no money, no gold or silver or copper, no extra clothing, DON’T EVEN TAKE A SIMPLE BAG, much less a duffle bag, to carry with if — you were going pack extra clothes, which he won’t let them do.
My God, some people I know pack hair dryers when they go camping. But Jesus sends his followers out on the journey of their lives with one tunic, bare feet and a bunch of empty pockets.
WHAT’S UP WITH THAT?
Actually, it makes perfect sense if you have grown accustomed at all to the Jesus Style of doing things. When Jesus acted out his parables in real life by eating with sinners, touching lepers and sharing pleasantries with the peasantry, it left the religious elites in such attitudinal turmoil that Jesus usually managed to just slip away unnoticed, and most of the time they just ended up scratching their heads. I suspect many of them were left with no choice but to rethink their position.
What he is doing in today’s Gospel is empowering the women and men that comprised his discipleship to become wise in the ways of this not-too-overt, semi-covert, form of attitude rebellion. To understand this Gospel, we must understand Jesus, the first century Jew.
At that time, Jewish itinerant preachers tended to see mission in terms of building community. Most people like Jesus did not operate on St. Paul’s fiercely independent missionary model, where one traveled along major trade routes into the major metropolitan centers meeting with magistrates and town councils before he speaks to a crowd.
Jesus rarely left his home country, and yet he and his itinerant commune made the most significant journey of all:
The step across the threshold of a peasant stranger’s home. (*)
Why carry nothing for the journey? The answer is really quite simple. In the Greco-Roman world, itinerant philosophers, both religious and secular, were common place. They wore their belongings in a bag about their shoulder, much as a backpacker wears her backpack with everything she needs to exist independently in an otherwise wild world.
These philosophers emphasized rising above this world, keeping their distance from this world and its many entanglements. Their backpacks and all that they carried for the journey were symbolic as much as they were practical. They symbolized a thoroughly self-sufficient, non-dependency on the rest of the world.
This was most certainly not the Jesus Style!
I believe that Jesus was a nose-to-the-ground prophet of God, traveling the back roads to the dwellings of the common people, stepping into their homes with nothing in hand except the invitation to join him in the festival of life and love.
He eats with all sorts of low-lifers. That was the most common declaration about Jesus by the religious elites. Little did they know that their declaration would literally become the centerpiece of the Christian Gospel one day.
The practice of inviting all sorts and conditions of people to a common table, and to approach that table in a spirit of mutual dependency was an acted-out parable that was meant to demonstrate what the world would be like if God truly ruled here!
This is exactly what the service of Holy Eucharist is supposed to demonstrate each Sunday morning. The Holy Eucharist is our invitation to join this rebellious resistance movment.
When we approach the table we share, it’s not with people on our own personal invitation list, but with people on God’s invitation list. We cross a threshold with nothing but open hands, ready to receive! Oh, if only we could approach everyone, everyday, with the same kind of openness. God really would rule the world!
For Jesus, every threshold is sacred, and there is no threshold that is out of bounds. Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it this way:
If you and I took our theology seriously, we would realize that we bear God in us; we are sanctuaries; we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We shouldn’t just shake hands and greet each other in the normal kind of way. We ought, each one of us, to genuflect before one another because we will be saying, as the Hindus and the Buddhists say, “The God in me greets the God in you.” And so, I believe that to treat human beings as if they were less than this, is not just evil, which it is; it’s not just wrong, which it is; it’s not just painful as it frequently must be for those who are victims of injustice and oppression, but for the believing Christian, it is a blasphemy.
There are no low-lifers in the Kingdom of God. The last thing that victims of injustice need is judgment. Most of the time people find themselves in the place they are, not through fault, but just because this life is full of risky intersections.
I am reminded of the story of the homeless Holy Family, where Joseph knocks on the door of the inn and says to the Innkeeper,
My wife is with child, and we have no place to sleep for the night.
And the innkeeper says, Well, that’s not my fault, to which Joseph replies, Well its not my fault either!
I believe the world is watching the church, waiting to see if we will really live out the core of our founder’s teaching. Instead they witness our unhappy internal divisions, over sometimes the most trivial of matters. We follow a Messiah who put inclusion and community at the very top of God’s manifesto. If we can’t accept our fellow Christians, then how can we be seen as accepting of the ones that Jesus expects us to accept: the sinners of the world, the lepers of the world, the tax collectors of the world?
Jesus eats with low-lifers! was their cry.
As sisters and brothers in Christ, we are called to leave our baggage behind and to step across every threshold with open hands and hearts that match, along with an attitude that says, NO MATTER WHAT we will genuflect before the God that is inside the other.
* A quote from John Dominic Crossan’s, Jesus, a Revolutionary Biography. (p. 10)