Today’s gospel reading comes from the beginning of the ninth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, running from verse one through six. This section is commonly referred to as, “The Mission of the Twelve.”
The scene depicts Jesus commissioning the apostles to continue the work they have seen their master doing throughout his Galilean ministry as detailed in pervious Lucan accounts, specifically: proclaiming God’s Kingdom (Luke 4:43, 8:1), exorcising demons (Luke 4:33-37, 8:26-39), and healing the sick (Luke 4:38-40, 8:40-56).
Jesus has equipped them for their journey by providing them with only one thing: his “power and authority.” Everything else they may think to bring (i.e. walking stick, sack, food, money, and second tunic) is to be left behind.
I wonder what a modern day version of this story would sound like. Jesus would gather his disciples and tell them to go out and preach the gospel, leaving behind their GPS equipped car, luggage, cooler filled with food, credit cards, and change of clothes. Thanks to readily available fast food restaurants we could probably do without the cooler of food, but we would never think of traveling any significant distance from our house without all those other things. We depend too much on them to ever think of being without them. But do we really need them to announce the Kingdom of God?
Consider the type of journey Jesus is sending his disciples on. It is not a trip to visit family or friends. It is not a vacation to the beach at the Sea of Galilee. I suspect that if Jesus was sending them on one of those types of trips, he would have no problem with them taking along the creature comforts of their day (e.g. a walking stick). But he was sending them out on a missionary journey, a journey to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and make known the Kingdom of God. By instructing them to leave everything behind he was actually assisting them in the best way possible: Jesus was ensuring the disciples would seek God first during their journey.
A journey to preach the gospel requires the missionary to be utterly dependent upon on God. That is ultimately what this story is about. A journey like that must begin with prayer and be sustained with trust and obedience.
Popular legends abound about St. Dominic. Some say his only possession was a copy of the Gospel of Matthew and all he ever did was talk to God or about God. For today’s modern missionary, a few more material items may be required and a few more conversations about practical matters would also likely be necessary. However, the lesson from today’s gospel and from stories about saints is that our utter dependence on God never changes!
The disciples in today’s gospel reading were given one mission: make Jesus known. They weren’t to worry about anything else, just concentrate on that one thing. The saints of the Church also lived their lives with a singular purpose: to make Jesus known. And despite whatever we may think our lives are about (work, family, recreation, etc), we too really only have one purpose in this life and it’s the same one as the disciples and the saints: we are called to make Jesus known to those we encounter in our lives.
By depending solely on God, as today’s gospel message teaches us, we remove the stress of thinking our evangelization efforts depend on our delivery technique. That is how Jesus helped his disciples: he made sure they would be dependent on God by removing all other things they would depend on (e.g. money).
We can make Jesus known through a word or deed specifically designed to attest to the reality of God’s love or it could be through the simple witness of our daily lives. In all that we do within our families, our careers, and even our recreation, if we are always pursuing love as our highest goal (cf. I Cor 14:1), we will always be successful in our “missionary journeys” even if they take us no further than our workplace. Begin each “journey” (i.e. day) with prayer and continue forward in trust and obdeience.
In closing, I’ll leave you with one of favorite quotations from scripture: Paul’s “charge” to his disciple Timothy:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry (2 Tim 4:1-5).