Thursday, July 12, 2012

Travel Lightly

Fifteenth Ordinary Sunday Year B

It’s really ironic how some of the things which you enjoy most of all gets matched up with the things you least enjoy.  An obvious example is travelling. I love travelling. Who doesn’t? However, an important prelude to travelling is knowing how to pack your luggage. Here, I must confess I fail miserably. Packing my luggage is one of the things I hate most in life, which is another way of saying that I am disorganised. I know that many of you can appreciate the nightmare of trying to fit two weeks of clothing into a bag which can only accommodate less than a week, lugging around heavy luggage, waiting in long baggage claim lines, fretting over whether you would have to pay additional charges for overweight luggage.

I must have overlooked the wisdom of that celebrated author of the Little Prince, Antoine De St Exupery, “He who would travel happily must travel light.” In recent years, I have begun to learn the important lesson of travelling lightly. I’m a slow learner when it comes to this. After having over-packed for many trips, which includes lots of overnight stops in various hotels and accommodations, and suffering the misery of lugging around a heavy suitcase, I’ve finally learnt the lesson of keeping it simple.  Well, at least some times.

I can still recall the first trip I went on with this new resolution to keep things simple, where I opted for a cabin size carry-on instead of my usual larger than life check-in luggage plus another carry-on. The experience was exhilarating! I was mobile, flexible, and fancy free. I felt like I could go anywhere, and do anything, when I wasn’t loaded down with stuff. And I thought, wow, if it feels this great to travel lightly, how wonderful would it be to live this way? I began to edit the contents of my life with the same fervour as I had my suitcase. As I slowly ditched the extra “baggage,” I could feel the weight being lifted from my shoulders.

Excess possessions are like excess luggage: they can tie us down, get in the way, and drain our sense of energy and adventure. Conversely, the less stuff we have to worry about, the more nimble we become—and the better able to embrace new opportunities and experiences. To regain our freedom, we simply need to lighten our loads.

In today’s gospel, Jesus presents this wise piece of travel advisory to his disciples and to all Christians. But Jesus’ version seem even harsher than what you would expect on a budget airline like AirAsia. When you get a ticket issued by Jesus, you won’t have to struggle looking for those small print exclusions found at the bottom of the page. It would come printed in bold right at the very top – “No Carry-Ons Allowed.” Well, that’s really paraphrasing the following - “Take nothing for the journey but a walking stick- no food, no sack, no money …. (can ) wear sandals but not a second tunic.”  

Many would be tempted to think that Jesus had imposed such harsh austere conditions because it arose from some sick sadistic pleasure to see his disciples suffer. Others would explain away the extreme demands made by merely dismissing the whole episode as a literary hyperbole – a mere exaggeration of the actual conditions required in order to prove a point, not to be taken literally. Very often, we would try to escape from the rigorous constraints placed by Jesus by spiritualising the message. But, it is clear that the most important lesson that Jesus wanted to impress on his disciples was a radical dependence on God with regards to disciples and would-be disciples. He had made this demand right from the beginning when he called Peter and his brother Andrew and the two siblings, James and John, from their previous stable occupations of fishing. They left not only their possessions, a paying job, their hometowns, but also friends, relatives and even families.

Radical dependence on God means not anchoring ourselves to our present situation of life. The conditions imposed by Jesus on travelling lightly stresses the importance of always being on the move. We are to steer away from the temptation of growing roots, hanging on to what we possess, holding onto relationships we have established, keeping a firm hold to positions we have acquired. Christians need to be always on the move because we are a missionary people called to proclaim the kingdom of God to furthest ends of the earth. Christians become overly parochial and insular when they lose their missionary edge. Inertia makes them grow spiritually fat and lazy. When Christians or parishes have become overburdened with heavy baggage, they no longer see the excitement and enthusiasm of sharing their faith.  

Secondly, radical dependence on God means rooting ourselves in the Church. Being dependent on God does not mean that one is a Lone Ranger or a soloist. Jesus sent out the Twelve two by two. Dependence on God requires dependence and submission to the community which Christ established as his visible body, the Church. Dependence on God means communion and collaboration with others called to the same mission. Radical dependence calls us to recognise that the Church is the People of God moving together and journeying towards the Promised Land of eternal salvation.

Thirdly, radical dependence means freedom from enslavement to sin, material possessions, false securities, self-sufficiency and pride. Interestingly, the four items required of the Twelve in today’s gospel are identical to that which God told the Hebrews to take on their flight from Egypt in the Exodus (Ex. 12:11). The Hebrews were rescued by God from their condition of slavery in Egypt. But eventually, they found themselves enslaved to new masters – to the things which they brought as additional security. This radical rejection of those items point to a second Exodus which all Christians must take. In order to be free, one must not only be free from external masters but also from the tyranny of self.

Fourthly, radical dependence means accepting the hospitality of God. The whole story of the Bible could be seen through the interpretive key of ‘hospitality.’ God offers hospitality to man in Creation – he builds a home and furnishes it with all that is necessary for man’s livelihood and wellbeing. God offers hospitality to man by offering him forgiveness and reconciliation, even when man had turn God out of his life. And finally, God offers hospitality to man through the gift of salvation. He offers us the hospitality of heaven.  Hospitality means trusting in God’s providence. When we move into the home of a friend who has offered us hospitality, we don’t move our entire household, furniture, furnishings and lock-stock and barrel into this new environ. We move in with the expected hope that all our needs will be provided for. God will provide for our needs. Thus the radical dispossession of the disciples of Christ will be matched with the bountiful grace, riches, hospitality, and blessings of God. God will provide his workers with their ‘daily bread.’

As Christians, we are often tempted to surround ourselves with several layers of security blankets, to get into the rut of daily routine and develop inertia against change. The radical call of Christ, however, shakes us from our stupour. Christians are meant to always be uprooted whilst rooted in Christ. They are meant to live on the edge whilst living in dependence of God’s providence. They are called go out on a limb whilst attached to the True Vine who gives them life. They are called to travel lightly, whilst carrying the heavy weight of being effective witnesses of the good news of salvation. Only then, can the Kingdom of God be seen not only as the content of their message but in the testimony of  their lives.

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