“You go! Look, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Don’t carry a purse or bag or wear sandals. Don’t greet anyone on the road.”
Luke 10: 3-4
On this feast of St. Luke, we read the commission of Jesus to the disciples to go and prepare the way for him. This is precisely the mission that Theodore James Ryken foresaw for the “band of brothers” he would form. These lay religious would go out as a vanguard to prepare the way for the nourishing of the faith in those who had no faith, and for their reception into the Church “by the priests.” As Ryken dreamt it, his brothers would go out to the margins and the frontiers of society. Their faith and their brotherhood would enable them to overcome the very natural fear of the unknown and the likely experience of being unwanted as they always pushed further and further out into the edges of society and of personality. As the Fundamental Principles describe this vision for our own day:
It is through your life of gospel witness
lived in community with others
that God desires to manifest
care and compassionate love
to those who are separated and estranged,
not only from their neighbors,
but also from their own uniqueness;
to those who suffer
from want, neglect, and injustice:
the poor, the weak, and the oppressed
of this world.
It is only in Luke’s gospel that Jesus’ charge to the disciples carries the injunction “Don’t greet anyone on the road.” This is added because while the commission to the Twelve was to Galilee, which was “a place receptive to Jesus, the present mission is in dangerous Samaria, which has already been shown in the narrative (9:53) to be hostile” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, p. 167). To live as a disciple will inevitably bring us into the experience of conflict with others. If we are true to our life and our call, we shall not always be “well received.” Yet, while Jesus sends his disciples into this unwelcoming situation, he also tells them that they are to go with nothing, to be dependent on those to whom they are being sent. This description points to two irreducible aspects of mission: it must always be extending beyond the boundaries of our comfort and success, and we must always go in total dependence on God alone.
Although the history of his Congregation would rather quickly take a different course, the founding vision of Brother Ryken involved his brothers going to the frontier, to those places where people had no sense of the love of God in Jesus for them. By serving these people, by giving them trades by which to live, the members of this brotherhood were to prepare the ground of their hearts to know God’s love for them. They were to go not as individuals but together. It was in their faith and in their brotherhood that they were to find the strength and the courage to overcome their hesitancies and fears, to bear with all the ways they would not be welcomed. It would seem, however, that for Ryken they were not to “settle in.” They were the groundbreakers, those who would prepare the way for others who would come to carry on and complete the work. In this sense they were to take on something of the role of Paul: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God has given the growth” (1 For. 3: 6). As religious brothers, they were available and able to keep moving on, further and further into the frontier. Their religious vows and their shared brotherhood would make it possible for them to live an ever developing and expanding sense of mission. As such, “success” in the conventional sense was always a danger to the mission. As Jesus points out, a requisite for radical mission is to have no purse, or bag, or sandals, but to be always “on the road” to the next place or person to which we are being called.
In our personal and our corporate histories, however, we all suffer from the human difficulty of extending ourselves out to places and persons where we are not welcome. We so desire to be accepted and respected that we naturally take these as the signs that our “mission” is successful. It is a lifetime’s work to become so dependent and trusting only on God and not the opinion of others that we are able to forsake the security which the world offers. To hear Jesus telling the disciples “Don’t greet anyone on the road” is chilling. Be it at the geographical or interpersonal level, it is very difficult to “be for” another when one is not wanted, or even liked and respected. Whether we are going out to a group or a people or accompanying an individual other into places in their lives where no one, even themselves, has ever gone before is frightening. Often the pain and lack in the others becomes focused on us; we become the enemy. Yet, such is the way to deeper love and care.
In working with others, there very often is a moment of choice as the person asks us to accompany them into their own deepest suffering. It is to summon the courage to stay with them and in our poverty to accompany them “to a place we would rather not go” or else to give them advice from a safe and comfortable distance. We can remain aloof and “solve their problem” from a distance, or we can go to the frontier, the margins of their and our experience. Similarly, as a body, we can hunker down in what is known and familiar to us or we can dare to go places we have not yet even imagined. Today we learn, as Jesus sends his disciples to the Samaritan towns, that it is the very core of mission always to be ready and willing to go beyond. It is a willingness to leave where we are comfortable and in control and “go out” to those places where we are poor and vulnerable, for it is in our poverty that the love of Jesus comes to be known.
To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify to the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way. To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenseless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way. The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship