Let the Scriptures Speak
“[Wear] no sandals; and greet no one along the way.” (Lk 10:4)
It is all very well to read Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples with its curious restrictions (no walking sticks, no backpacks, no sandals, no greetings on the way). But what does that have to do with following Jesus today?
We are familiar with Jesus' commissioning of the Twelve in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; only Luke, however, gives the account of the sending of a further group of seventy (or seventy-two, depending on which manuscript you read). Where does this extra group come from? It may indeed be literally a further group that Jesus sent out during his public ministry. Then again, this account may be the Third Evangelist's way of previewing the mission of the post-Easter Church reaching out to the nations. For 70 is the classic biblical number of the nations of the world, as illustrated by the “Table of Nations” in Genesis 10. (The alternate number of 72 in the manuscripts may well derive from the fact that the Greek version of Genesis 10 lists 72 nations.) And so, this commissioning of the 70/72 may well intend to say something about the Church's mission generally, not just the mission during Jesus' time. Given the fact that the Christian communities portrayed in Acts and reflected in the letters of Paul were mainly made up of urban stay-at-homes, Luke probably wants us to use this picture of the sending of the 70/72 as a kind of symbolic paradigm for the living of the Christian mission generally. Taken this way, what can it mean?
The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Imaging the mission as a harvest reminds us that the enterprise is one initiated by God, not simply a human project. In spreading the Good News, we participate in something God is doing. Conscious contact with the Harvest-master, i.e., prayer, is essential.
Do not carry a walking staff or traveling bag; wear no sandals. No one in their right mind traveled the Palestinian roads staffless, bagless, and unshod.
Without a staff you are defenseless. Without a bag of some kind, you have no way of carrying a change of clothes or some bread for the road. And no matter how tough your feet are, you can't run from danger on that rocky terrain without something on your feet. In short, anyone traveling in this strange way would be engaged in a kind of prophetic action, communicating by means of attention-getting behavior. The point of this mode of traveling would seem to be something like this: we are people who trust in God for our defense and who depend on the hospitality of others for our sustenance; we have a vision to share.
Greet no one along the way. In the Near Eastern setting, the point here is not avoiding the courtesy of giving or responding to a friendly greeting; it is rather a mandate not to engage in the extended pleasantries and exchanges that were customary in those parts. The point of this travel style is not unfriendliness but moving with an air of urgency.
How does this apply to Christians (then and now) who live in town and hold down a steady job? The missionary charge to the 72 suggests that even followers of Jesus who are registered voters with a permanent address should be people who “travel light,” live a little more trustingly than the culture around them, and exhibit a sense of purpose that clearly goes beyond producing and consuming goods and getting entertained. Even settled Christians can live in a way that invites questions about where such people are coming from and where they think they are going.
Dennis Hamm, SJ
Fr. Hamm is emeritus professor of the New Testament at Creighton University in Omaha. He has published articles in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, The Journal Of Biblical Literature, Biblica, The Journal for the Study of the New Testament, America, Church; and a number of encyclopedia entries, as well as the book, The Beatitudes in Context (Glazier, 1989), and three other books.
**From Saint Louis University