If we are going to dedicate ourselves to being disciples of Jesus Christ what do we need, what must we take with us? What can we dispense with? He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff - no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses. They were to wear sandals, but, he added, do not take a spare tunic. Simplicity is clearly the order of the day. Let us get rid of what is unnecessary. Let us cut down; let us retrench; let us detach ourselves. We embark on our pilgrimage in obedience to Jesus Christ with the bare minimum. All of this appeals to us, I think, at least at one level. We expect our religion to simplify things a bit for us. We look to God help us cut through complexity and to dispense with the unnecessary. We come to our prayers and to the sacraments in order to get the heart of the matter. It is the Lord’s business to reveal that to us. No surprise if he expects from us, in return, a little focus, some concentration and discipline.
If being a disciple allows us to jettison the superficial and unnecessary then we are probably, deep down, in favour of that. Of course we are attached to some of those superficial things. However we are perhaps not too surprised to find that our faith exposes them for what they are, draws attention to their superficiality. One of the purposes and functions of our religious system, the whole of such communion as we find in the Church is to help us accept God’s judgements about what is important and what is not, and to order our life accordingly. This Gospel simplicity and focus can seem to bark a shin against some ingredients of what we might regard as ordinary human maturity. Not all of our resistance to throwing things away and to travelling light is self-indulgent or luxurious. Our responsibilities include the care and management of some of the things which, it might seem, God wants us to get rid of in order to serve him better. We jump up and down on our suitcases, so to speak, not only to squeeze extra bling and unnecessary trifles but the things which are really needed by those towards whom we have responsibilities.
No doubt some relationships can clutter our life. They can be superficial or unnecessary or wrong. Our ties to others can require too much of us or even be dangerous. So they can be among the things which disciples jettison when they set about simplifying their lives in order to be better followers. It is not however that all our ties to other people, be they ever so loving, be they ever so charitable are condemned as luxuries. We need each other, and not only in tough times. We love each other and not only in the rainy day of need and lack. We are made for community and communion, for friendship and love. Yet some relationships can be severed and discarded in the light of the will of God. If you enter a house and the place does not welcome you and the people do not listen to you, as you walk away, shake the dust from your feet as a sign. This is a hard teaching. We are to persevere in love, of course, we must not give up easily or lightly, but at a certain moment there is a break. Our duty to parents, spouses, children, brothers and sisters is never done. Death itself, never mind a hundred other sorts of parting and dividing, cannot truly separate us from these persons whom we love but may also challenge our love very much. They may be very reluctant to listen to us. They may have become like strangers.
The house does not welcome us. We depart, then, not petulantly but in all maturity and responsibility. Perhaps we should attach a lot of weight to those words in the Gospel: If you enter a house. The Lord knows that our entrances are as serious as our exits, and what we have undertaken and inherited carries very serious obligations. Yet even in the most complicated and difficult to human ties there is a simplicity which is the mark of the disciple. Of course there is complexity in our life. Of course some things are hard to explain or to unravel. Of course some things are elaborate just because they have been built up over a long time. But the Lord calls us, not first to departures and splitting up and rejection, but to simplification, and a concentration on what is essential and true. A looking to the heart of the matter. Our long experience and our sophistication can distract us a little sometimes in this. We are not denying the intractability of some problems, especially those that arise between us and those we love. But our experience, and it might not be only of sweetness and light, is enlightened by the hope which goes with our faith as well as by the serious demands of our religion. We are, after all, those who have been claimed as God's own, chosen from the beginning, under the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things, as decided by the divine will, chosen to be for the greater glory of God, the people who have put their hope in Christ. This is a high destiny, but not another cumbersome item to squeezed into suitcase, but, rather, the reason for the journey and the promise of a safe and happy arrival.
Peter Gallagher SJ