All of us are called to be missionaries in this world. By our baptism, each and every Christian is a missionary disciple commissioned to go into the world and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
When we step into mission we are asked by Christ to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We are asked by Christ to prepare properly and pack the right things for the journey. That’s the message to the Twelve today.
Pope Francis shared in detail what being a missionary disciple means in 2013’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium or Joy of the Gospel, co-written by Bishop of Rome Emeritus Benedict XVI.
In it Pope Francis explains how to prepare for missionary discipleship, the state of our world today, and our place in it.
“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”
Missionary discipleship begins and grows from a friendship with the person of Jesus Christ. Once we’ve experienced this close personal encounter our lives are never the same.
Like the first disciples — who moved from being fearful and discouraged to fearless and zealous as missionary disciples — we too can become transformed into messengers of grace and hope in the world.
This transformation happens here and now if we are open to it. Just as Jesus called his disciples as they went about their daily work, he calls us to missionary discipleship in our everyday lives, too.
We are sustained in our mission by praying, studying scripture, celebrating the sacraments, and striving to live a good Christian moral life.
This is the only path to peace and contentment in the world today. But first we must prepare, pack, and become mission ready.
Today, Jesus is getting his Twelve Apostles mission ready. He’s preparing them to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And He’s telling them what to bring, and what not to bring, for the journey, a divine packing list of sorts.
Whenever I hear this Gospel I always think about packing for a trip and the unique ways each of us does this:
Some, like my wife Mary, are very prepared. The process starts weeks in advance, as lists are developed of what to bring and what not to bring. These people are very detailed in their preparations for the journey.
Others, like me, just pack the night before, using only a mental check-list. No actual list. And, yes, sometimes I forget things using this method.
Notice how Jesus is telling the Apostles how to pack for their journey.
Jesus instructs them “to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money…” Yes, they can wear sandals, but no second tunic.
Scripture scholars see three big things happening here.
One is Jesus is asking his disciples to detach themselves from personal possessions.
The best way to think of this today is to imagine telling a loved one not to bring their smart phone on vacation so that they might better enjoy the experience. I think we all know how that would go over.
Jesus knows our attachments provide us with security and comfort in what we have. Jesus wants us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and rely solely on what God provides.
This allows us to be more focused on who we might meet along the way, on receiving hospitality from these new friends, and on a dependence on God for everything.
The second big thing happening here is Jesus is sending out the disciples in pairs. Bible scholars suggest with two people the virtue of charity is better witnessed by those observing the actions of the disciples as they go about sharing the Good News.
Jesus knows the two together will show charity toward each other, prompting observers to marvel at how these two collaborate, listen to each other, understand each other, and love each other.
We are not on our mission as soloists for Christ. We best perform in concert with others. This is why Jesus is sending out pairs on their first mission.
Isn’t this true for each of us? Aren’t our journeys more rewarding and meaningful when we do them with another person. We see things differently because no trip is the same for everyone. Besides solo travel also can be quite lonely and not as much fun.
The third big thing happening here: Bible scholars note the similarities in instructions to the Mission of Twelve to the Israelites at the First Passover before their Exodus from Egypt. Moses told them to be ready to leave with nothing, but the clothes on their backs. Moses said the Israelites could trust God to provide all that they need.
As we saw in the Exodus, the grumbling Israelites seemed more comfortable trapped in slavery in Egypt than being free and relying on God’s providence in their lives.
Isn’t that true of us sometimes? We, too, can become comfortable trapped in our sin, not trusting in God enough to set us truly free from this enslavement.
This is why mission is so important. In mission, we take our focus off ourselves and our own needs, and instead focus on others and their needs. In mission, we find Christ.
Mission can be a scary place. Just ask the 21 parishioners who accompanied us to Guatemala in 2015 and got comfortable with being uncomfortable.
We have to be prepared to step into this new world. We must be open to learning from the people we meet and the relationships we build. If we’ve packed appropriately, we will be transformed by people who have so little (by our first world standards), but who have more joy than we do. Just experiencing Church in the third world can open our eyes to this reality. As Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium, the poor have much to teach us. Let us keep in our prayers the missionaries from our parish headed to Haiti in a few weeks.
But mission isn’t always traveling to faraway lands. Mission can be right here in our community.
Our missionaries doing homeless outreach and street medicine have learned how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and have prepared and packed for this mission.
Experiencing others trapped in slavery to addiction, mental health crisis and poverty can be a powerful place to witness Christ.
These missionary disciples trust in Jesus to take us to the people who need us the most. They are able to pray in the name of Jesus with many of the 50-75 people we meet with each night.
It’s too early to tell if we’ve driven out any demons or cured anyone, but we know we are bringing Jesus to human souls living on the margins of our society. We’re also building wonderful relationships with our friends experiencing homelessness in the area.
And this is just what Jesus calls each of us to do – to witness Christ to the world and share the Good News -- especially to the outcast, the despised, the poor and marginalized.
Pope Francis says we cannot witness Christ locked inside of the Church. We have to be prepared to take Jesus out into the streets.
Maybe it's time to check our own packing list to see if we are ready to travel as missionary disciples, ready to bring the Kingdom’s message of liberation and freedom to those we meet along the way.
So, I ask: Are you prepared to get comfortable with being uncomfortable? Are you able to shed some attachments to help lighten the load for the journey? Are you mission ready?