I have paused in this portion of Mark’s Gospel or Luke’s parallel countless times by now. In fact, this has been the case so many times that by now nothing much surprises me — except for the ways in which it comes alive just outside my door from time to time:
I was out on a mid-morning walk Friday morning. By now my usual path is so familiar to me that like the passage we are called to reflect upon now, not much catches my attention as ‘new.’ Except, perhaps, the people who happen to be out and about when I am.
For this was so. Ahead of me I saw a couple moving at a quicker pace than I ever would. And an older woman just beyond them. Her pace was slow as she was carrying several bags full of apparently recent purchases.
The couple overtook her quickly and no doubt in response to their need to walk around her, she stepped into and began to walk on the quiet residential street itself so as not to be in the way of whoever came along next.
Now I should say this is an unusual sight in my neighborhood — someone walking with their arms so full. For though where I call home is not the most affluent part of town, most everyone seems to have at least one car.
I have to say that I debated with myself as I drew closer. (I imagine introverts among us understand this internal conversation completely…)
- I could walk on by her and not greet her at all, which is too much the practice among walkers in my neighborhood.
- Or I could speak a simple greeting.
- Or I could pause long enough to offer to help her carry what was clearly a burden to her.
I did not know what I would do until I drew up alongside her. When finally I called out a ‘good morning,’ she was visibly startled, crying out at the sound of my voice. She looked at me sideways when I observed that clearly she was ‘well balanced’ with her bags, but I would be glad to help her carry them. She said a quick ‘no thank you, I’m fine.’ And then I guess she took a second look and decided I was harmless enough and offered to let me carry one of her bags.
Once we untangled it from the others wrapped around her wrist and started to make our way down the street, she unburdened a whole lot more:
- That she had lived in the small duplex up ahead for three years and that while she signed a lease in May she didn’t want to as the landlord ‘paints over problems’ instead of fixing them. But these days it is hard to find a place she can afford living on with Social Security.
- That her mother is in a local care facility which is why she stays here at all, even though she grew up here. She would have her with her, but she can no long see nor hear and it just became too hard. She says her sisters don’t want the responsibility of guardianship and so it is left to her.
- That she would rather be in Wyoming and will go as soon as she can.
As we drew closer she pointed out the birdbath in the front and how she had tried to fix up the front yard as the back was full of snakes because of the small waterway that borders the property. She said that among her purchases were peanuts for the squirrels.
As I set her bag on the front porch, she said what she had really gone shopping for were shoes as hers were breaking down and her feet and legs were giving her pain now. Only she couldn’t find anything that would work at her first stop that morning. She figured she would head out shortly to catch the bus to go somewhere else in search of those shoes.
As I said good-bye, I thought to myself that the bus does not come through our neighborhood so she would have at least one more long walk in broken down shoes before she could hope to get what she needed.
As I made my way home, I wondered if I should retrace my steps and offer to at least drive her to her next destination.
I did not. I did not for I wondered if I had inserted myself into her life too much already that Friday morning. And yes, I did not because I was already behind in my morning chores.
Even so, I now know her name and where she lives and something of what she carries all the time and from here on out I can keep my eyes open for her in my neighborhood.
I got back home and I sat again with this passage from Mark and I couldn’t help but wonder at this: at how very little it takes to be about the work that Jesus sent the disciples on now. Jesus knew what we often forget, that often all it takes is open eyes and ears and hearts unburdened enough to take in what is right before us. Jesus knew that all those disciples would need, that all we would need, was the love and the power of God. And you can’t fit those things into a ‘bag’ — indeed, the bag itself could take up so much room in your mind and in your heart and in your hands, that you would have no room to carry anyone else’s burden.
- And so it is I think about those disciples now being sent out to practice the work that they had been called to when first they followed Jesus.
- I think of how they might have been afraid or uncertain as they ventured out.
- I think of how hard it must have been to go without all the things that gave them a sense of security or safety. Of how challenging it must have been to trust that they would be given what they needed not only to sustain themselves but to be of any good to those whom they encountered.
- I think of how astonished they must have been as people welcomed them and received gifts they didn’t even yet fully know they had to give.
- And I think of how that must have shaped them always, how from there on out they would have been differently tuned to the work of God and to themselves as possible conveyors of those amazing gifts of God.
I thought of all of this in the wake of a mid morning walk on Friday and of how my own world was opened, my own heart softened as I trusted enough to simply call out to a stranger.
Indeed, I thought of how very little we need — at least in terms of what we think we need — as we seek to go about the work of God, in small ways, yes, but in larger ones, too.
Oh, I cannot help but wonder if God used my unexpected encounter with an older woman and her bags to remind me that it takes so very little (of what we normally think we have to have) and the rewards are so great for those who get to see the work of God right before our eyes. And that for what is before me today, if it matters at all, God is already giving what is needed, whatever that is.
- How do you hear Jesus telling the disciples to take ‘nothing for the journey?’ What does that mean for you as you head out in mission and ministry to the world?
- What might it mean for a congregation to ‘travel light’ in this same way? Can you see how if we are ‘carrying too much’ we might have no room to carry for someone else?
- I expect those disciples always saw the world in new ways after Jesus first sent them out as he does today. I expect I will see others on my walks through the neighborhood with fresh eyes as well. Can you think of moments in your being ‘sent’ that continue to shape how you see and experience the world and those who inhabit it?
- And yes, I think of an older woman who I walked alongside for five minutes a couple of days ago. All I offered was a hand. And she gave me her whole life story, reminding me that behind every doorway on my street lives heartache and hope, resilience and wonder and struggle and joy. In the end, I know who benefitted most. And isn’t that often so…