Amos 7: 12-15; Mark 6: 7-13
I don’t know what Jesus is talking about today. When I travel anywhere I tend to overpack! So I was at a conference this past week at a retreat house right on a beach in Jersey. Now there was no swimming in that spot so it was quite nice and quiet, but I couldn’t help and watch everyone else doing what they do on the beach. If you’ve been to the beach you probably have noticed, or have been the one, who appears to bring everything with them when they come to the beach even to the point where they can barely carry it all. It’s crazy. It looks as if they’re moving in despite knowing that they’re going to have to haul it back in a few hours. I also, at times, feel like I grew up in antiquity watching them. I saw a woman with her two daughters. The two are running while the woman is practically hunched over carrying stuff. I refrained from saying anything but I couldn’t understand why the kids weren’t carrying it! If we couldn’t carry it, it didn’t get to the beach! Not a good way to learn to live without. We carry a lot of baggage. If it’s true that our environment says something about our interior landscape then there are many that are carrying serious baggage.
Maybe Jesus has a point then about taking very little. You know, for a gospel that doesn’t give a lot of specifics, Mark is pretty specific on this point. You notice there’s not much about what they are to do but it’s very specific about what they should take and not take. Sure, carrying a lot of stuff, like at the beach, becomes exhausting after awhile, but there are deeper reasons for sending the disciples out in such a fashion. All that they know about Jesus up to this point is that his encounters have been with the most vulnerable. He encounters the poor, the sick, those who have been shunned from society and outcasts for one reason or another. They’re the people that have nothing to lose and pretty much have nothing, including no status in the life of the community. An encounter with the most vulnerable needs to be met with a great deal of vulnerability and trust as well. It’s the deeper reason to send them with nothing.
Yeah, they’re pretty simple guys, simple fishermen themselves. Although they may not be carrying much physical baggage, they still carry with them ways to avoid the most vulnerable, building walls around themselves to somehow prevent getting hurt, avoid rejection. It becomes easy to hide behind status, role, career, our belongings, all of which prevents the authentic encounter with the vulnerable one. As the disciples are sent out two by two today, they aren’t being sent to fix people’s problems or anything like that, but in the process of encountering the vulnerable they also become more aware of themselves. They become aware of their own demons that act as baggage in their interior life. It’s how they begin to become aware of it around them and to not give into the fear that they often invoke. Will they always get it right? Far from it. Will they be perfect at it? Absolutely not. They’re not Jesus nor are they supposed to. Will they face rejection like the prophets? Absolutely, but that too will become a point of meeting and encountering the vulnerable and learning to trust over and over again.
The same is true for Amos in today’s first reading. Again, a rather simple man. He’s someone that would prefer to go back to his own way of life of shepherding. Things seemed much easier for him as that and quite frankly doesn’t want much to do with God or being this prophetic voice. He learns, though, today, about shaking the dust off of his feet or shaking out the sand and moving on. Amaziah wants nothing to do with him or his message of God. Like most of the prophets, the message often sounds quite harsh to the powers that be because they try to maintain the status quo. They prefer to invoke fear in the people but often at the hands of the most vulnerable. The poor become forgotten and take the brunt of what is done. The women and children, the refugees, people fleeing the violence that is often sparked at the hands of the political authorities of their day. Amos, as he learns of himself as well, learns the difference of when that word falls on deaf ears and moves on. It doesn’t stop him from being the prophetic voice. Some are just unable to hear and receive the message. Just as at times we aren’t. There are times when people try to reach us and we’re unable to hear and see because we trust more heavily on our own baggage rather than being open to the possibility of God. Jesus has every reason to send them out today with very little in order not to create a barrier, separating them from the most vulnerable and learning to trust that God will give them all they need. When it’s not being heard, they shake off the dust and carry on.
We tend to carry a lot with us. We have all learned ways to avoid pain, suffering, being rejected, but in doing so we close ourselves off to love. We build walls to separate ourselves rather than allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. These readings challenge us in our own lives to be aware of what it is we use in our lives that acts as that barrier. There are times where we need to literally go to the most vulnerable, whether the poorest of the poor on the street or even someone suffering in pain or loneliness in the home next to us. When we go with a sense of openness and vulnerability, it does as the disciples do today, heals. It heals not only the other but our own hearts and souls. The most authentic encounters we can have are when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable before the other and the Other. It’s too easy to close ourselves off but today Jesus invites us on a different path and a different encounter, one of great vulnerability, opening ourselves not only to the possibility of hurt, but more importantly a great deal of healing, love, and compassion for others and ourselves.