Put your Hand to the Plough

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 25th week Tempus per Annum (C1)

Nihil tuleritis in via, neque virgam, neque peram, neque panem, neque pecuniam, neque duas tunicas habeatis.
Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic.

It’s easy to write this passage off: Jesus wasn’t talking to our modern times; or at least we’re not apostles like, say, bishops. I don’t think we can get away with that. We may have been able to do so for a long time, but this option would have been a luxury in the times pre-Constantine, and I think it’s a luxury for us now as well, to think we can ignore this. The literal meaning may not make sense in this day and age, but I think that’s important. How unwilling would most of us be to give up the physical props we have, the luggage, the food we have in our cabinets, the money in the bank or even our extra clothing? We’re as attached to these things as we can be, I believe, both in general (as a culture) and in particular as individuals. I love having meat in the freezer for me to take out. As I type right now (at about noon) I know there is liver thawing out in my fridge at home. I took it out of the freezer before I left for work. And the freezer was quite full.

Take nothin with you along the way, nihil tuleritis in via. In Greek, Μηδὲν αἴρετε εἰς τὴν ὁδόν, Meden airete eis ton odon. Nothing take for the way. The Greek “τὴν ὁδόν” ton odon is the same phrase used to describe Christianity: “The Way”. That’s important since the Gospels were written for followers on τὴν ὁδόν, not for outsiders. Take nothing with you for The Way. Don’t miss that echo, that hyperlink in the text. We can’t write off this passage: this is Jesus telling us what we need to follow him.

First off, the Way is a path, a journey. It’s not a homecoming. Everything about what Jesus taught assumes apostolicity: his disciples being sent out. This is not limited to the 12 Apostles, it’s all of us. In our modern, rootless and cosmopolitan world, we need to be rootless to serve the God we follow, we are following Jesus. We put our hands to the plough and we don’t look back.

As we walk the Way we don’t need a walking stick: we carry our cross, and the lean on Christ (and so, each other) we don’t need an aid: what kind of support do we use? Politics, ideologies, economics, patriotism, these and all things we use to cover our lack of faith. We carry nothing with us so we don’t need a sack, and we bring no food with us: for Christ is our daily bread, but we rely on our addictions, our jobs, our greed, and our culture for food. Before long we need a sack. We bring no money for we have no need of the goods of this world. What we need is Christ and he provides all things. We do not even bring a change of clothes for we have put on Christ.

The Way is Christ, our support is Christ, our food is Christ, our supply is Christ, and we have put on Christ. Alleluia. What Jesus is saying here, to those who are sent out (that is, all of us) is that when we go (which is always) we are to go only with him.

I realize that some of us are obligated to provide for our families. St Paul says the married man is concerned with the things of married life and this is all well and good. But the rest of us, the single men and women, are to be concerned with the things of the Lord. Jesus adds, “Seek ye first the kingdom God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” So while I am single (which is to say forever) and if you as well, then, while you are too, we should walk this way.

We are coming to times when this will be needed more: we will need to, more and more, trust God and not look back, to step out and not look down, to just keep walking the Way. The Russian Church had to do this for 70+ years. The Chinese Church is still doing it. I think it will be our turn soon. Shall we be witnesses? Shall we walk the way together with Christ?

What shall we do when the going gets tough if we have not had a chance to toughen ourselves?

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