Tools for the Journey
No bread, no haversack, no coppers for your purse; just imagine the scene! It’s a bit like arriving at your destination only to find that your entire luggage which you spent days trying to cram into your case along with all your money has instead gone to Rio, and you’re left metaphorically naked at your hotel. It’s the stuff of nightmares – but as far as the gospel goes, it’s par for the course. So what is going on and what are we to make of it all.
Well it seems that none of the items which we might consider as being essential are really needed at all for the task of proclaiming the Gospel. So maybe it’s a warning or at least a wakeup call. The gospel is no easy ride, so be prepared for some harsh realities and truths, oh and by the way, home comforts will only get in the way. Stripped down to the real me, devoid of all that cushions me from the realities of the world, what do I have, what is it that I possess which then qualifies me to be a disciple? Here is a good opportunity for us to have a real look at ourselves and to explore just what is needed for the journey.
At its simplest the call to repentance is an invitation. Jesus is offering us an opportunity to change, to free ourselves from what clutters our life so that we can be released and liberated to live in his freedom. This is not a naïve expectation, nor is it rash irresponsibility on our part. The message which we have received has been given to us with authority over the things which confine us, and there is no reason why we should be enslaved by them. The message itself as delivered to us is already empowered and it will do its task. What is required of us is to be its bearer and harbinger. We have to peel away from ourselves what hinders or distorts the purity of the invitation and accept it as the way by which the kingdom is brought to fruition.
The invitation will not of course be accepted by everyone, and so we shouldn’t feel despondent or disillusioned if it appears to us that our efforts are rebuffed. Jesus tells the disciples as much with his instruction about how to respond to not being made welcome and the parable of the sower graphically made the disciples aware of how diverse the response to the invitation would be. There is though to be no recrimination or reproach, the work of judgement is not for us to carry out. The thing for us to remember is that having accepted the invitation and having witnessed its power to change us, we should act generously in offering our own experiences to others, looking to understand how their lives can be enriched through accepting the gospel values which we so treasure. Our calling is to live out the faith we profess and to be identified by that faith and not by the accoutrements and trappings with which we surround ourselves.
But why the staff? Why has Mark allowed the disciple to take a staff along, whereas Matthew and Luke in their versions of this gospel passage, don’t, it seems an unduly harsh sanction for the wandering preacher. We can’t say for certain but maybe Mark is pointing us towards a sense of the prophetic as an essential element in the make up of the disciple. Something perhaps akin to Amos, who, as we hear in the first reading, was before his call, a shepherd (with crook and staff?) who looked after sycamore trees. No doubt it’s a good solid wood from which to carve a decent staff with which to find comfort and solace on the journey towards the kingdom. It’s a thought to ponder on.