These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.” (Mark 6.8-9)
Too Many Things
Comparing suitcases is all it takes to separate seasoned travelers from neophytes. Experienced travelers appreciate the benefit of carrying as few necessities as possible. It lightens their load, minimizes distractions, and frees them to discover new things. Unseasoned travelers cram their bags with extra outfits, accessories, and commodities just in case this or that happens. They exhaust themselves lugging heavy loads of stuff they'll probably never use. It never occurs to them wherever they go, they’ll find help with their unanticipated needs. Fear of the unknown and distrust of the unfamiliar weighs novice travelers down.
People who travel light find those who travel heavy bemusing. Their inability to leave the comforts of home behind begs questioning why leave home at all. In contrast, many veterans purposefully skimp on what they carry because they've learned some of their greatest delights emerge when unforeseen needs take them off the beaten path, exposing them to local customs and solutions they’re able to integrate into their lives. They return with stories and knowledge they’ll always remember. Neophytes come home with pictures and souvenirs they eventually box up and forget until they move to a new place. Taking too many things on their travels ultimately burdens them with too many things at home.
How to Pack
In Mark 6, as Jesus sends His disciples out to minister, He instructs them how to pack. The specificity of His list is quite surprising. “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic,” He says. Here is a veteran Traveler offering sound advice to novices. His instructions come fairly soon after His personal ordeal in the wilderness. He knows first-hand that the disciples won’t discover the benefits of trusting God to provide if they’re lugging a lot of stuff along just in case. They won’t learn invaluable lessons from people they meet, hardships they face, and answers they find.
Jesus whittles their packing list to two essentials—a staff and a pair of sandals—and we shouldn’t gloss over the relevance of these items. A staff equips each disciple to maintain balance on rugged terrain. It protects against predators and thieves. And it provides shelter if rain and dust storms catch them en route between villages; the staff serves as tent pole to support their cloaks and hide them from hostile elements. Sandals also protect them from rocky roads and hot sand. But they’re mainly preventative. Without them, the disciples might end up incapacitated by cuts and blisters. Jesus doesn’t want them to slow down to nurse their feet. To gain the most from their journey, they must keep going.
Staffs and Shoes
Jesus’s pragmatic reasons for limiting the disciples to staffs and shoes escape us today. Yet they also have important value in biblical iconography. Staffs attest to God’s power to rescue and provide for His people. Moses stretches his staff over the Red Sea and it parts. When Israel’s trek takes them out of range of fresh water, he taps a rock with his staff and refreshment gushes out. Meanwhile, shoes speak to God’s presence. We conclude this by noticing people remove their shoes any time they encounter the pure presence of God. When traveling through places where God’s holiness is compromised, however, the shoes on our feet signify He’s with us. Our safe passage is assured.
When we apply these lessons to Lent, we come away with one message: travel light. Much of what we’re tempted to bring with us is unnecessary. Indeed, it will only halt us from trusting God’s provision as we travel. We short our potential for unforgettable experiences and knowledge we can integrate into our daily lives. All we need are the staff of God’s power and shoes that shield us with His presence. Balance we seek is in our hand. Protection and shelter are, too. Walking in God’s Spirit keeps us from suffering undue injury and harm. We can keep traveling ahead, discovering fresh wonders along the way.
If we’ve entered Lent’s wilderness with too much, it’s not too late to eliminate just-in-case items that bog us down. We carry them because we’re afraid of the unknown and distrustful of the unfamiliar. But armed with God’s power and shod with His presence, there’s no cause for fear and apprehension. Hebrews 12.1 and 2 reads like the perfect Lent pilgrim’s prayer: Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. In terms of wilderness travel, there’s no one better than He to teach us the best way to go. Travel light.
Entering Lent's wilderness with everything we think we’ll need bogs us down and keeps us from invaluable experiences we can use when we return home.
(Tomorrow: To Be Tempted)