It’s definitely summer now, the signs are everywhere. Not only is it consistently hot, but thunder is heard from the sky and from the fireworks after the Trenton Thunder games. It’s summer because I’ve managed to actually finish a book that I was reading and to finish a couple projects that have been sitting idle for a while. It’s summer because people are traveling; that’s easy to notice when you live in Bordentown, seats in church and in the restaurants are easier to come by. But the fact that it’s summer hit me hard the other day when Doan and I discussed visiting my parents on the shore on a Friday and Doan said, “But we’ll never make it, it’s the weekend.” It’s summer because now it takes forever to move east. Summer is a travelogue.
The Bible is a bit of a travelogue; God is always telling His people to get going. Adam and Eve, get outta my garden. Noah, get ready to sail. Abraham, get walking. Moses, gather up everybody and go for a really, really long walk. Jesus’ earthly ministry was rarely still, and those who followed immediately after the Resurrection followed suit, most notably Paul and those who accompanied him on his missionary journeys.
Today we get an episode in which Jesus sends His people out once again, this time 70 of His closest disciples (or 72, depending on which manuscript you read), sent out as a kind of forward team, to prep the cities Jesus plans on traveling to next.
Jesus gives them some very specific instructions, which on the face of it, seem counter to the advice we would give travelers. “Do not carry a walking staff or traveling bag; wear no sandals (greet no one along the way). No one in their right mind traveled the Palestinian roads staffless, bagless, and unshod.
“Without a staff you are defenseless. Without a bag of some kind, you have no way of carrying a change of clothes or some bread for the road. And no matter how tough your feet are, you can’t run from danger on that rocky terrain without something on your feet.” This is, technically, terrible advice. It’s like telling your friends before their roadtrip to leave the spare tire at home, to leave the cup of coffee and bag of Twizzlers on the kitchen counter, and cancel their AAA membership.
But, of course, this was no ordinary journey. It was a strange trip indeed. “In short, anyone traveling in this strange way would be engaged in a kind of prophetic action, communicating by means of attention-getting behavior. The point of this mode of traveling would seem to be something like this: we are people who trust in God for our defense and who depend on the hospitality of others for our sustenance; we have a vision to share. Greet no one along the way. In the Near Eastern setting, the point here is not avoiding the courtesy of giving or responding to a friendly greeting; it is rather a mandate not to engage in the extended pleasantries and exchanges that were customary in those parts. The point of this travel style is not unfriendliness but moving with an air of urgency. ”1
I’m a member of the diocesan Congregational Development Committee, which is headed up by our Canon for Congregational Development, Fr. Rob Droste, who is excellent at his work. In our last meeting, we were coming up with ways to help Christians be more comfortable in talking about their faith. The idea is that if you or I found ourselves in a conversation with friend or stranger that turned to matters of faith, that we would have the words to describe our faith, our church, to describe what Jesus had done for us. I asked what we could do to help Christians become the type of people others seek out when it comes to matters of faith, to become the obvious Christian in the room (without the practice of wearing Lord’s Gym t-shirt with a picture of bodybuilder Jesus benching 500 pounds). I wonder if this story answers that question.
So “how does this apply to Christians who live in town and hold down a steady job? The missionary charge to the 72 suggests that even followers of Jesus who are registered voters with a permanent address should be people who “travel light,” (who) live a little more trustingly than the culture around them, and exhibit a sense of purpose that clearly goes beyond producing and consuming goods and getting entertained. Even settled Christians can live in a way that invites questions about where such people are coming from and where they think they are going.”2
I admit that this is easy for me, walking around I as do in the habit of priest, but how is it that you invite questions from those seeking Jesus, and how can I help you answer?
1Dennis Hamm, SJ http://liturgy.slu.edu/14OrdC070316/theword_hamm.html