15 July [15th Sunday in Ordinary Time]
Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them."
When Jews of old were about to enter the Temple they had to leave their sandals, staff and money girdle outside. Perhaps this was in Jesus' mind when he told the disciples to take nothing for the journey. The world is a kind of Temple of God.
The details of what they were to leave behind differ from gospel to gospel. "No staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money - not even an extra tunic" (Luke 9:3). "No gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff" (Matthew 10:10-11). But Mark's account allows them a staff and sandals. Mark's is the earliest gospel. Why did the later ones make the conditions stricter? It has been suggested that it may have been due to a comparison in the matter of poverty with the 1st-century Cynic itinerant preachers, who went about on bare feet.
Today a 'cynical' person is someone who is disenchanted with everything, more or less. The original Cynics were followers of a philosophical school (founded in the 4th century BC) that viewed all human civilisation as artificial and rather contemptible. They believed we should return to a natural life, self-sufficient and free of wealth and luxury. Hence their bare feet and simple lifestyle. In the 13th century St Dominic found himself in a similar situation. The Albigensians, an Eastern sect that regarded material reality as evil, were being very successful, particularly in the south of France, because people were impressed with their ascetic way of life, which compared favourably with the vanity and luxury of the Catholic clergy. The Albigensians went about on bare feet. Dominic realised that the Gospel could not be preached from horseback (luxury transport in those days), so he took to the roads on bare feet, like the Albigensians themselves. But when he approached a town he would put on his sandals, in case he was taken for an Albigensian!
Today we see that the Gospel cannot be preached from a Mercedes or a Porsche. Some of the most impressive religious groups have been ones that returned to poverty and simplicity of life, such as the Congregation founded by Charles de Foucault. The call to "take nothing for the journey" is as resonant today as it was in the time of the first disciples of Jesus.
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