During these summer months, when vacations happen, as we plan trips to the beach, trips to the mountains, or trips to see family and friends, we try to be prepared for those trips. Such trips involve packing, of course—trying to think of, and to fit into the suitcase and into the car and onto the plane, everything we’re going to need while we’re on the trip.
The following scene, which was common in my family, is probably not unfamiliar to you either: Dad is packing the car for a week’s vacation, trying to take advantage of every possible cubic inch of space in the station wagon, arranging suitcases first one way then another, putting things in then taking them back out, asking “What’s left in there?” and “Do we really need to take this?” The kids are making the trips back and forth from the garage, carrying the last few items, while trying to calculate when to make the last trip to the bathroom. Mom is finishing up packing the lunch, and thinking “what else should we be taking” and “why do I have the feeling I’m forgetting something.”
Finally, all the essentials, and probably a few non-essentials, are fit into the car, and it is then that the last-second thoughts begin occurring to the family: “What if it rains? We better take some umbrellas. Run back in and get a couple umbrellas.” “What if it rains the whole time? Better take some games for the kids.” “What if it turns cold when we get there? It’s 90 degrees now, but we don’t know what it will be like there, in a week, in the evenings. Run back in and get jackets for everyone.” “Maybe your brother will sleep in the car; run back in and get him a pillow.” “What if my teddy bear misses me? I better take him along.”
“Being prepared” for the trip , in this scene, in this mode of thinking, at this moment, right before leaving, means: taking along everything we’re going to need; adding those last few items to be ready for whatever happens. It reminds me of the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.”
When I was a Boy Scout, I always thought of that motto, rightly or wrongly, in terms of making sure I had everything in my pockets I was supposed to—probably because the scoutmaster had a habit of approaching us “tenderfoots,” at any time, and demanding: “Show me your dime; you never know when you’ll have to make a phone call.” “Got your matches?” “Where are your bandages?” “Let me see your compass.”
“Being prepared” meant taking along all the stuff we were supposed to have, to be ready for anything.
Well Jesus is sending his disciples on a trip now, and how is he approaching the last-minute preparations? Is he the parent packing the station wagon, sending them back for umbrellas and jackets and teddy bears? Is he the scoutmaster, reminding them to take dimes, and matches, and bandages?
Listen again to Jesus’ last-minute instructions for the trip: “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff”- no bread, no bag, no money, no second tunic. “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey.”
Not a very good Boy Scout, is he? Jesus, for some reason, is preparing the disciples for the trip by telling them to leave things behind, to discard them, rather than adding things in. His instructions to them, contrary to our usual way of preparing for a trip, are to take very little, to travel light.
Why does he do this?
Why would he be instructing them to leave behind even the basic usual travelling gear—money, food, a change of clothes? What could be the advantages to traveling so light, advantages worth risking unpreparedness for? Why are the disciples supposed to travel without baggage?
As we consider this question, let’s remember: we’re disciples too. These instructions, to go out and spread the good news of the coming of God’s kingdom, are among the many of Jesus’ instructions to the twelve disciples that are meant for disciples through the ages, meant for us. So let’s keep that in mind as we look for the reasons for traveling light, traveling without baggage: what does that mean to us disciples?
First reason: disciples who travel light can move faster. Especially in the Gospel of Mark, there is an urgency to the message of Jesus and the disciples, a feeling that the good news has to get out to as many people as possible as fast as possible. “Don’t get slowed down carrying excess baggage,” the tone seems to be. “Get out there. Be quick. Get around to everyone. Move along. There’s no time to lose. The word must get out.”
People traveling light can travel quickly, and reach more people with the good news—and that’s what’s most important to Jesus here: getting the good news to as many people as possible. The only two things which Jesus says the disciples should take on their trip are sandals and a walking stick—both things which enable them to move faster.
Second, disciples without distractions can better concentrate on their job. Notice how specific Jesus’ instructions about lodging are: “Whenever you enter a house, stay there.” Don’t be going from place to place, looking for the best house to stay in. Don’t be preoccupied with finding the most comfortable offer. Stay in the first place you come to, not the best place. You’re not out there to be pampered, you’re out there to do a job, so don’t get distracted by the pursuit of material comfort. Don’t worry about that; don’t get distracted bothering about details of personal comfort.
Third, disciples who aren’t carrying everything they could possibly need with them learn to rely on God, and that God will take care of them—as God did the Hebrew people in the desert during the Exodus; as Jesus promises God will do when he says to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. Learn to trust God, Jesus says, by instructing disciples to travel light. You will be taken care of.
Fourth, disciples who are traveling light will need to trust other people. They will be preaching the gospel, and healing, and making new disciples; surely they can trust these new fellow disciples to take care of them, to support them in their time of need, to be their brothers and sisters in Christ. Traveling light trains disciples to trust one another, as well as God.
Fifth, traveling light improves a disciple’s credibility with his or her listeners. If a preacher were to come to town in a limousine, dressed in the finest clothing, staying at the finest hotels, eating at the fanciest restaurants, asking for a few thousand dollars for their appearance, would we believe them when they said their work was motivated entirely by their love of God? Would we be convinced when they presented themselves as “Jesus’ humble servant”? Would we be motivated to make personal sacrifices, upon their appeal, to carry on the work of the kingdom? More likely, we would suspect in their approach a racket, a selfish motivation, a person who’s come up with a clever way to live well, by using the name of God. Disciples who approach simply, humbly, unadorned by material trappings, are more convincing ; we believe that they have come out of a sincere desire to do the Lord’s work.
Such a disciple also illustrates in their bearing one of the Lord’s lessons: to approach others as a servant, not a lord over them. A powerless, humble traveler, dependent on others for help, is a walking illustration of Jesus’ instruction to be a servant to others—instruction given as a rebuttal to those who were interested in appearing greatest of all.
Traveling light also demonstrates good stewardship. It displays a recognition that resources are limited, are finite, and shouldn’t be wasted. It represents the simple lifestyle, a dedication to living on basic necessities, not extraneous and wasteful luxuries. A modern-day example would be the difference between flying coach and chartering one’s own private jet. Traveling simply demonstrates good stewardship.
And finally, a disciple who is traveling light can move on quickly, once the message is delivered. Another element of Jesus’ instruction is this: “If any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, leave, and shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.” “Shaking off the dust” is a reference to a Jewish custom: when pious Jews returned to Judea after traveling in Gentile territory, they would shake the dust off their feet as they crossed the border, symbolically leaving behind the unclean Gentile land, even the little bit which had collected on their shoes, as they re-entered their holy God-inhabited land. It was a gesture of cleanliness: I’ve left behind the unbelieving world and am not carrying any traces of it with me back into my believing world. I’m back to my life of holy worship.
The disciples were to do the same when coming across an unbelieving household or town: leave them behind, shake off the dust, and move on. Don’t look back. That can be one of the hardest parts about presenting an important message: accepting the fact that some people won’t believe it; avoiding taking that non-acceptance as a personal failure; refraining from wasting more time and energy on a lost cause. Human beings have free will, and some will choose not to believe Jesus’ message at a particular time; don’t waste more time with them right now, if their mind is temporarily closed.
Wait and try again some other time, or let someone else try some other time. Don’t be deterred from moving on to someone who will accept the message. And don’t get so caught up in your own recordkeeping of success and failure that you stick around. The purpose is not for you to run up a good won-lost record, but to present God’s message for their consideration. Once the message is delivered, move on. You won’t need to lose any time repacking; disciples who travel light can move right along, even when—especially when—the message isn’t accepted. Yet.
So there are many reasons for traveling light as a disciple, for not filling every inch of the station wagon; for not stuffing one’s own pockets: for speed in getting the message out; to avoid distractions like the pursuit of material comfort; to train oneself to rely on God and on other people; to be believable; to illustrate servanthood; to be good stewards; to be able to move along and not look back when the message isn’t accepted.
Disciples, Jesus says, should travel light.
So now back to that reminder that we’re disciples too. Back to that question “what does traveling light mean to us disciples?” Is there baggage we need to leave behind, things we have to discard, stuff we have to stop carrying around , in order to be more effective disciples? And “baggage,” of course, does not mean only traveling items, like money and food and clothes. We can also be encumbered by the “baggage” of our minds and hearts, the mental and emotional stuff we carry around. That baggage can also interfere with effective discipleship, with doing the work of God’s kingdom, with traveling light. So what baggage might we want to leave behind?
As with the twelve disciples, perhaps concern for material comfort. Does our search for physical comfort, for being surrounded by nice things, ever interfere with our discipleship? With our giving to those in need, for example? With our decision to attend worship? With our choice of career, or use of our spare time? Yes, the pursuit of physical comfort, first, can also be a distraction to us from good discipleship.
–Concern for our image? Are we afraid of looking foolish if we’re identified as disciples, that we’ll be associated with characteristics or characters whom we deem unpopular? Are we afraid of how we’ll look to others if it’s known that we are disciples?
–Concern for our won-lost record, our “success” in presenting the message. Does the failure of one or two people to respond to our faith become an excuse to never present that faith again?
–Feelings of inadequacy. Does a feeling that we’re not up to the job stop us from trying to be good disciples? Is that fear of failure a piece of baggage dragging us down? Remember who it was Jesus sent out: untrained, still doubting, still misunderstanding disciples. Still making mistakes. Still not up to some tasks. Perfection is not a requirement in this job description: God wants us as we are.
–Guilt. It’s no accident that we speak of guilt as “weighing on someone’s mind”: it is a weight, something that drags us down. Do we consider ourselves “not good enough” to be one of God’s workers? We testify every Sunday that we are forgiven, that our guilt has been taken away by God. The joy of that knowledge of forgiveness comes through in confident disciples. The guilt is gone.
–Grudges and quarrels with other disciples. Does a long-ago argument with a fellow disciple stop us from working with them? Jesus sent the first disciples out two by two. They would have to cooperate, to work with one another. There is no time to carry around old grudges and quarrels. There is also no room in the pack for prejudices about those whom we approach. “I won’t deliver the message to young people because a few years ago a couple young people didn’t listen to me.” “I won’t help poor people because ten years ago a poor person didn’t say ‘thank you.’” That baggage stops the work of discipleship too.
–Differences in minor points of theology from other disciples. “I can’t work with her: she likes new hymns and I like old ones.” Or any other differences—in work style, in schedules, in personality. The job is to deliver a simple message: believe the good news. All the other differences are irrelevant; making them important makes them encumbering baggage.
–And overplanning. How many projects are never acted on because every little detail has not yet been sketched out perfectly? How many opportunities pass by because a committee is still in conference? Overplanning is baggage too, that might have to be left behind.
“Travel light,” Jesus tells his disciples. Don’t take the extra things along. Leave behind anything that interferes with the assignment. Stay in the first house. Shake off the dust. Move along. Deliver a simple, basic message: repent and believe the good news. Travel light, disciples.
Third Church had been presented with a challenge by one of its members: after years of talking about Christianity, she said, it was time to do something about it. Her proposal: weekly dinners, every Monday night, at the church, feeding the poor of the community. Much to her delight, Session was receptive to the idea, and a committee of ten people in the church signed up immediately to implement it. The dinners were going to happen! The first committee meeting took place the following Tuesday.
“I’ve been thinking about this,” said one member, “and I’ve realized that it wouldn’t look good for our church to be drawing ‘that kind of people’ here. Our image will suffer; other people will mistake them for members! So I change my mind; I resign.”
“I’ve been thinking too,” said a second. “And I’ve decided that the people we feed probably won’t become church members here after all. They’ll just eat here, and not come back on Sunday, so what’s the point? I resign.”
Two other members looked across the table at each other, said “I didn’t know she would be here,” and stomped out. Another recalled giving money to a street person six years ago for food, and watching them go into a liquor store; she left. Two more quarreled as the meeting began, over what type of prayer should be said before the dinners were served, and left. Two more argued over what type of food should be served, and stomped out.
One committee member was left. He looked around the empty room, shrugged his shoulders, sat down with a piece of paper, and began devising the meticulous, step-by-step schedule of committee meetings, public relations events, and training sessions which could lead up to the hosting of the first dinner sometime in the fall of 2021.
Travel light, disciples. Amen.