Seems that the only thing missing was…the proverbial “backpack.” In the Gospel for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 6:7-13), Jesus is sending his apostles on a long journey. For that reason, he is telling them what to take and what not to take. Ultimately, the idea is that they should travel lightly.
What are the apostles supposed to take? First, a walking stick. Second, strapped up sandals. Third, only one tunic. Why, these three items?
First, some background is necessary. The “journey” in the Bible is meant to be more than just going from here to there. The journey quite often refers to the “life experience.” You walk and often come upon crossroads. You choose one over another based on your motives. The tendency is to experience good things and bad things while on the chosen road. Then you encounter other crossroads and the above pattern repeats itself.
A classical biblical example is the Exodus. The Israelites were on a journey leaving servitude in Egypt for freedom in the promised land. They had to cross the Sinai desert, and during that life experience the people were faced with many challenges. They accepted some and rejected others. Much of the book of Exodus tells us about that journey. This is what a “life experience” is all about. Facing challenges and rejecting or accepting them.
Secondly, it seems to me that the three items that the apostles were asked to take were not only practical but valuable as well. For example, the walking stick not only aided walking but also was a defensive weapon against dangerous animals. In addition, the strapped up sandals signified that one was always ready to move ahead–if one had to. Finally, the single tunic suggested light packing which meant the journey would be easier.
So, what can this Sunday Gospel mean to me? A positive answer could be found if we look at the three items Jesus asked his followers to take and see them symbolically. For their journey (our “life experience”) they were to take a walking stick, strapped up sandals, and one tunic.
The walking stick was used as an aid to walking, and as a possible weapon to defend oneself against possible dangers. Assistance in stability and a defense from harm. For example, what is it that keeps me stable in my life journey? My faith? My use of the Sacraments? My prayer life? What defense to I have when others reject Jesus’ message to them?
The strapped up sandal was used as a symbol of readiness to move on when the message of Jesus (as well as the messenger) of peace, justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding was not accepted. Instead of arguing, it was much better to move on to the next town. One needs to have an open heart to listen and accept Jesus’ message. If the messenger does not find an open heart, the messenger must be ready to move on.
The one tunic definitely indicates the notion of packing lightly. If you have ever taken an airplane trip, you would definitely understand the need of packing lightly. For the follower of Jesus, this necessity of packing lightly means that one must have faith in God to help provide what is needed. What is emphasized here is the belief that God will help us out, in spite of our fears.
Keep in mind that our life experience is a journey. We will encounter challenges. And if we take the items that Jesus told his disciples to carry (our version of the “walking stick” “laced up sandals” and “one tunic”) then for certain we have chosen what is often called the “high road” because it is, most likely, the better road.