Jesus told the apostles to go forth totally empty-handed, but it seems He meant something more than merely to go without money or goods. He was saying that they had to totally rely on God to be with them, supplying all the necessities for safe travel and all they would need for the ministry at hand. But it was not just money and supplies they were to eliminate; they were to leave behind all their insecurities, fears, and prejudices, too. Jesus did not expect them to be perfect, but He did want them to try to love as deeply as they could by having hearts empty of fear and filled with the kind of mercy and compassion with which He had given them. They had received many gifts and so Jesus instructed them to freely give those very gifts to others. Jesus wanted the apostles to realize that all they needed to bring on their mission was found in their faith in Him. This message is for us, too.
Maybe the real key is in realizing that we are to literally take nothing. To love means to give and not to take. Surely Jesus was instructing the apostles not just to go without carrying anything with them; He was also saying that they were not to take anything away from the towns they visited either. They were to bring healing, forgiveness, new life, and freedom from that which oppressed the people such as demons of every sort. The Kingdom of Heaven is indeed about freedom. But since it is given without cost, it certainly meant that the apostles were to take nothing with them from these places. They were to give and therefore to leave the places where they had been fuller and richer, not diminished in any way. They were to enter in peace and leave in peace. They were to bring God’s message and then move on. They were to leave as empty-handed as they arrived which also meant they were not to leave with judgments about the people who may have accepted or rejected them, they were not to confront, or to inflame anger, but rather to try to share the message which brought life and redemption. They knew that God always has everyone’s best interests at heart and so they were to let their words and deeds be given without expectations. And they were to glorify God, not themselves. They were to leave as they had arrived.
To proclaim the Kingdom means that when we leave a place or a room, it should be better than when we entered, but if they do not accept us or the love we have to share, we need to at least leave the place no worse for our having been there. There should be no diminishment to any place where we have attempted to live the message of Jesus. And similarly, we should not be worse when we leave a place then when we entered. We do not want to take away with us anger or resentment which comes from hostility or a lack of acceptance which had been directed toward us, nor do we want to doubt our ability to do good works. We should leave with our peace intact, too. Everything is in God’s hands. God never forces anyone to be healed or even to be loved, and therefore neither should we. We come and go in peace because the work is not ours, it is the Lord’s.
We need to take to heart that we are missioned just as the apostles were sent forth. The people who live today are in need in just the same way as the people who lived during the time of Jesus. He needs us to be His hands and feet and to love with His heart just as much as He needed the apostles. We need to continue the work of building the Kingdom of God until the day comes when Jesus returns. As daunting as this seems, we can bring healing and new life just as the Twelve did if we learn to rely completely on God and the gifts which He has given to us. In other words, we to need to dare to love, and we need to draw all our strength from the love which He gives to us.
©Michele L. Catanese
All the photos are mine. The first is of a hummingbird in a garden at Copper Mountain, Colorado. I chose this because I had the Sermon on the Mount in mind. Jesus said: "Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them." (Matt 6:26) They are 'empty-handed' yet God cares for them.
The second photo is Denali, which was a bit of a 'miraculous' shot, because just a short time later the mountain was shrouded in cloud, hidden almost completely. God did not move the mountain for me, but He did move the cloud.
Next is Fra Angelico's painting of The Sermon on the Mount. I chose it because it was consistent with the apostles being prepared for their mission, and with the intention of my earlier photo of the bird.
Following is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called San Martin de Porres. It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/all-categories/product/121-san-martin-de-porres. I chose this icon because St. Martin was born into a poor family, knew many kinds of personal suffering, and yet he dedicated his life to alleviating the suffering of others through his gift for medicine.
Finally the last photo was one I took in west Texas near Big Bend. It symbolizes for me the beauty of the heavens and the earth.