TAKE NOTHING FOR THE JOURNEY (Mark 6: 7.13)
A friar I knew was being moved from one Priory to another Priory. He was a creative and prolific writer. He had packed his belongings in preparation for the move. Before he left, an old friend of his came to say good-bye and to wish him well. They sat among the cases and boxes that filled his room. The friend asked him what he had been doing during the past year. The friar answered: Oh I have just finished writing a book. And what is the title of this book, the friend asked. TAKE NOTHING FOR THE JOURNEY, the bashful friar replied. Oh my! said the friend looking around, I would never have guessed !!
Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel tells the disciples to take nothing for the journey except a staff. They were to be no donkeys carrying boxes, they were not even to take a spare tunic only a staff. Why would Jesus give the disciples this particular and seemingly tough instruction, which Jesus also gives to us? I think there are many levels to this passage where the disciples are sent out in two’s to preach repentance, cast out devils, anoint the sick and cure them. Two seems a popular number in the Scriptures. It reminds me of the Noah’s Ark where the animals went in two by two. Does it reflect fruitfulness, continuity or future possibility?
In the case of the disciples, was Jesus reminding us that we are relational beings, that we need each other for support and wisdom, or that communion is a given in life’s enterprise and in the life of the Spirit?
For us, as Dominicans, it is interesting that Dominic sent the brethren out two by two. Jesus sent the disciples two by two and with only a staff. In his plan, that was sufficient in order to reveal the God of the New Testament. It was enough so that the disciples would rely on God and out of that experience reveal the God of love and preach the good news of that reality.
In the mystical tradition of Christianity, this blueprint of “take nothing for the journey” is iterated and practised by all the mystics. We are called to rid ourselves of the extra baggage of our accumulated goods and chattels; to clear ourselves of the clutter of our mind, to let go of the past and preoccupation of the future so that we can live in the present moment and reveal in our being the presence and wonder of a loving God.
Why was the staff the one thing necessary together with a companion? I would imagine that a staff in ancient Middle East was both a support and a protection along the dangerous and rocky terrain. What staff do we need in order to travel unencumbered in life? What staff do we need in order to shut out the noise of senseless thoughts, images, distractions, or busyness in order “to be still and know God”
Take nothing for the journey is a stark reminder that a “Uhaul Van” never follows the hearse but it is part of the liberating call of Jesus Christ to be who we are, connected to the Divine.
Helen Mary Harmey OP