I sometimes wonder at what point Jesus Christ, looking down on successive generations of those who bore his name, began to get a bit worried that the project he started might seriously have gone off the rails.
Was it when the Roman Emperor Constantine – still a murderous tyrant after his “conversion” experience – elevated his new-found religion to primus inter pares among the religions of the Roman empire and ushered in the age of Christendom with all its presumed privilege and power?
Or perhaps it was a bit later when most of the followers of Christ swallowed hook-line-and-sinker the musings of another Roman citizen, Augustine of Hippo, regarding original sin and just war, giving us both a motivation and a justification for NOT loving our neighbours as ourselves. “It’s just my nature” was married perfectly to “he had it coming”.
Back at the beginning of the project, when Jesus of Nazareth first started out as a public figure, the approach was somewhat different. After giving his followers a good taste of what his message was all about (among other things: wholeness, justice, healing, freedom and responsibility), and showing them that standing for these things brought both recognition and opposition, he invited them to give it a try themselves.
And Jesus began to send the disciples out two by two, and he gave them authority over unclean spirits. And he directed them not to take anything for the journey, except their walking sticks: “No food, no bag, no money in your wallet. Just strap on your sandals and go, but don’t take an extra layer of clothing either.”
In other words, to walk in the way of Jesus means to embrace simplicity and vulnerability. Sure, feel free to take the things helpful to the journey itself – a walking stick and shoes – but other than that, travel as light as you can. Avoid those things that make you self-sufficient, that keep you from relying on others. Authority is given on a spiritual level, but it is matched with a distinct lack of resources in the physical world of daily existence; there’s a necessary link there.
The long history of religions, Christianity included, has proven this wisdom: religion is at its worst when entangled with the accoutrements of power.
Of course, all of this is the perfect instruction for our individual spiritual journeys. The Apostle Paul, writing to the fractured and dysfunctional parish in Corinth, urges them to grow up spiritually by following his own example of vulnerability. “The Lord told me, ‘My grace is enough for you – for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So I shall most gladly boast of my weaknesses, that Christ’s power may come to rest on me….For when I am weak, then I am powerful.”
Looking back in my own life I know I have been most helped along my journey not by the televangelist with the slick looks, great oration and highly-resourced ministry, but by the simple servant who was willing to admit his or her own struggles and incompetencies. Not by the one who has all the answers, but by the one whose questions echo in my own experience. Not by the one leaning on appointments and accolades, but by the one serving quietly, in small and fitting gestures. By the ones who know that if they are going to make it farther along the road themselves, they are going to have to rely on the help of others.
Where there is love and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance;
where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor annoyance;
where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice;
where there is peace and contemplation, there is neither care nor restlessness;
where there is the fear of God to guard the dwelling, there no enemy can enter;
where there is mercy and prudence, there is neither harshness nor excess.
– Francis of Assisi
I have my walking stick and shoes; Lord, make me to walk in your way.