Today’s Gospel is a powerful starting point for our reflections and prayer and particularly when we focus our attention on our call to discipleship. The words of Jesus today can help us appreciate the importance of our role and help us to gain both the confidence and knowledge that Jesus has overcome evil and that he is with us each step of the way.
We can gain a great deal by simply looking at the dynamics of this gospel scene. Jesus summons those he wants to work with him, he calls them into partnerships, he sends them on their journeys and he gives them authority to stand against and overcome evil. It is a powerful and all-embracing commission.
There is contained within the commission some advice too. The disciple who is to be a missionary in the world, is to take nothing but the bare necessities and to be humble enough to stay where one is welcomed. This advice and strategies, meant for first century missionaries, are not for us to literally imitate today. We go on mission in far different ways and employ very different methods. Rather, the instructions are all about not being distracted by material things, not being weighed down by all that we think we ‘need’ to be successful or not being led astray by the rush of ego that one might feel if people are competing for one’s presence and company.
No, the mission that Jesus gives to those first missionaries, and to us today, is to go out into the world clearly focused on the task of evangelisation (and not be focused on ourselves or peripheral issues). The disciple of Jesus is the one sent to preach repentance, to drive out evil, to anoint the sick and cure them.
Again, while it is a dramatic image, the notion of ‘shaking the dust off one’s feet’ is in fact an encouragement to the missionary. Jesus is saying to them that if the message of salvation is rejected or ignored, then they had no further responsibility and were free to walk away and advance the message in other, more receptive places and hearts.
In a modern sense this might also be consoling to parents, catechists, and leaders – as it is a reassurance that having tried one’s best to share faith, if this is rejected by family the next generation or those we have reached out to, then we need not carry this burden as some kind of personal fault or failure.
The message of Christ has its own integrity, we are only the messengers and if others are not ready to hear it, then this is not our fault and need not hold us back – we can go on in peace and continue to proclaim in those places what welcome us.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.