With the words that we just heard, Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for for their future of making more disciples. He begins to prepare them for their task of sharing the good news. These are traveling instructions of sorts, and I think they’ll serve us pretty well too.
Our first lesson for the road? Start where you are.
Eventually Matthew will share Jesus’s command to “make disciples of all nations,” but before that? Start where you are. That’s what the disciples were told to do. Jesus’s instructions to “go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans might sound exclusive, Eugene Peterson interprets this first charge by writing: “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off places to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here.” That’s not to say that we can’t follow God elsewhere too, but we don’t have to go very far to get started. There is always something to do right in front of us. Just like we can’t get to summer break or graduation without making it through finals, what good are grand gestures if we overlook what’s right here? This summer, start where you are. Who knows where it could lead.
Lesson number two, once we’ve started? Travel light.
“Take no gold or silver or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff,” Jesus instructs. While these words remind us that excess stuff isn’t necessary, it also reminds me that following God isn’t really about the stuff at all. If we start where we are, why wouldn’t we also start with who we are? You are enough, with or without the bells and whistles society says you need. You are enough to be the hands and feet of God right here, and wherever you’re going next. Travel light.
Lest we think it’s as simple as putting on our slimmed-down backpack and just sitting still: lesson number three. Walk the walk.
“Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, casts out demons,” Jesus tells his friends. While we might not be capable of the particular tasks Jesus lists in this verse, the point is clear: As we go about our lives, wherever they might lead in the coming weeks and months, there’s more to it than talking about God’s love. We have to get to work and show it. Live it. It’s great to talk about sharing God’s love as we go, but I hope we’ll do something about it too.
Some days, living up to this call can seem like an insurmountable task, but lesson number four will keep us at it: Let people help.
Jesus tells his disciples to stay in other people’s houses — to accept hospitality. To let people help them. Following the paths of our lives will be a lot less tiresome if we have some company along the way. Hospitality can come in countless forms. Maybe a literal place to stay, or maybe a refuge of a relationship in which you can talk things through. Maybe the space to sit and just say “I don’t know.” Let people help.
The last traveling lesson, at least for now? Shake the dust off. “…shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” Historically, this imperative to shake it off comes from the belief that even the dust from non-believing towns was polluted, and therefore needed to be ditched. Hopefully not surprisingly, I won’t go quite that far. But I wonder what weighs us down on our own dirt roads. Is it the dust of self doubt, or wondering whether we’re on the right road at all? Is it the dust of seemingly irreconcilable differences that separates us from a loved one? Is it the kind of dust that’s barely even noticeable at the time, until you see all the tiny scratches it’s left behind on your phone screen? Dust is tricky. It gets between your toes and in your nostrils. It will settle in different ways on different people, but really it’s pretty inevitable. It’s part of the path, but that doesn’t mean it has stop us in our tracks. Shake the dust off.
I wonder if the disciples paid attention to Jesus when he was telling them all of this. When Jesus gave them these traveling instructions he was only part way through his ministry on earth. And the disciples were human, after all. I wonder if they were sitting there kind of rolling their eyes — “yeah okay we know, Jesus.” I almost imagine it like the times I impatiently listened to my parents telling me how or why to do something, only to realize a few years later they actually did know what they were talking about. Of course we don’t know what was happening in the disciples’ brains. Maybe they listened carefully and got it the first time.
Either way, we too have these traveling instructions. Even though we travel together, the proverbial road will look different for each of us. Some of us are just beginning our time here, and some of us are nearing the end. Some of us might see a straight line stretching on for miles, and some of us might be taking it one turn at a time. We’re sent out either way, whether we’re headed just down the road, to another state, or even further. Start where you are. Travel light. Walk the walk and accept help when it’s there. Don’t forget to shake the dust off every now and then. Thank the Lord that we are led by a God who is right there in the middle of it all. Amen.