I don’t like forgetting things. Whenever I need to travel somewhere — either on vacation or through work — I usually end up tossing everything I can think of in my bag. Just in case I might forget something.
Camping trips are the worse. I think I need all of sorts of things for all sorts of imagined disasters. Sunburn. Bugs. Allergies. Insomnia. Broken toenails. I usually don’t use 99% of what I bring.
Now, if someone told me before my next trip “Uuum, you know that bag? The one with all of your things you don’t want to forget, your important stuff ?…. You’re not going to need it” I would ignore them.
In fact, I’m willing to bet that if that happened to any one of us, we might even get upset and think “Hey, if I leave that bag behind, I’ll never make it! It’s taken me years to figure what I need in an emergency. I need all that stuff!”
But that’s exactly what Jesus is telling the Apostles in our Gospel today. Leave your preparations behind. You have enough. You’ll be fine.
Can you imagine how they felt? Jesus wants them to be apostles, but on His terms. He is telling them exactly how to prepare for the work ahead.
Human nature being what it is, I can imagine their grumbling. “No bags? Really?” Scripturally, it gets worse. When Luke tells this story, the Apostles are told not to take a second tunic. St. Matthew has them not even wearing sandals… or taking a staff!
Why would Jesus say that?
Maybe the answer is found the difference between a disciple and apostle. Every follower of Jesus is called a disciple. We follow, we listen, we learn. It’s why we gather here, every Sunday.
An apostle, on the other hand, literally means someone who is “sent out” — from the Greek apostello. It’s what we do when we leave church. It’s about witnessing as well, but reaching out beyond a congregation, as far as our journey takes us.
The prophet Amos, in our first reading, is a perfect example of an apostle. A shepherd, he followed sheep and goats around for 10-15 miles a day. No shower, no soap, no toothpaste. He probably didn’t even own any bags.
Yet, the word Amos means “burden-bearer”. He had to speak what God put on his heart. He was called to leave his full-time work as a shepherd, make his way to the big city, and challenge those in authority. He didn’t let his lack of credentials, his appearance, his education, his status in society get in the way of being sent by God as an ‘apostle’. I’m sure he was a little anxious, but He knew God was with him. His plans were not important. God’s were.
A few years back, I did a chaplaincy internship at Boston City Hospital. Now Boston City Hospital is lot like Cook County Hospital, where sadly every weekend you are almost guaranteed to see a victim of a shooting, stabbing, car accident, beatings, drug overdoses… you name it.
I completed my class work, read the textbook, took notes, we did role play. My professor did a great job preparing me to be a chaplain in the trauma center.
But as many of you may know, nothing prepares you for intense pain and suffering. My first week as a chaplain, a woman in distress, a relative of a victim, approached me as soon as I walked into the emergency room. She said, “I need to talk to someone.” I was terrified. I immediately offered to get the full-time chaplain. I thought I was not ready. That’s what I had prepared to say. That was in my bag.
But she assured me, in her suffering, that I would be fine. She actually had more faith in me than I did. She needed a listening ear right then.
After our session, she was so grateful. But not half as grateful as I was for the strength God had given me to be present to her. Not half as grateful that I put my insecurities aside, and trusted in God’s wisdom.
In many situations, we may not be sure what to do, or what to say. But we can’t let our doubts get in the way of ‘being sent’. We need to leave our doubts and lack of self-confidence behind. Many times, we are put in situations for a reason, and we may never know why. But God knows why…. and He has given us all we need for the journey. Liturgy. The Eucharist. Our Church. Each other. Our natural gifts.
What imaginary bags do you have? Can you see how your anxieties are not God’s anxieties? That in dealing with your family, your co-workers, your friends, people who you meet for the first time, people who are suffering…. that God has a so much faith in you, and your abilities?
Mark is not trying to intimidate us today with a story about how awesome the Apostles were. I’m sure they were rejected by people, they argued among themselves, they said the wrong thing on occasion. But they trusted Jesus. They recognized God’s favor. They were disciples, called out to be Apostles. They were not perfect, but they were perfect in Christ.
Today’s readings turn the table. We get to see God’s faith in us. Maybe “You’re not going to need that bag” is not so much a command, not a penance… but rather, it’s encouragement. It’s a compliment from God. Christ is believing in us. We only need our sandals, our walking stick. That’s all. We have enough. We haven’t forgotten anything for the trip. We just need to go. Go in peace. To love and serve the Lord.