He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. — Mark 6:7-13 NRSV
Back when I was a lot younger, the rage was for Broadway musicals. They were usually pretty similar in general plot with just the details differing — boy meets girl, couple start to become closer, something separates them, something else brings them back together, they all lived happily ever after. Stories like that were common then. A hit musical usually had a few songs that people would walk down the road or sidewalk humming, whistling or singing, and there were a few songs that everybody knew. To have a smash hit musical on Broadway, well, that made the composer/lyricist’s names household words.
For every hit musical, though, there were probably 30, 40 or more that never made it through the first week, the opening performance or even consideration for production. Even big names in the musical field didn’t hit home runs every time, so it was important to them to get back to the drawing board and piano and start working on something new. They had to shake off the rejection of their initial project and move on to something else.
Sounds a bit like what the disciples were instructed to do: if someone doesn’t receive your message, shake the dust off your Birkenstocks and head on down the road to the next city, village, or hamlet. They were to do what might be considered “portable living” – taking absolutely the most basic kit, no extra or unnecessary items, even some perceived necessities (like money) were to be left behind. They had a job to do, but if people didn’t want that message, then off they were to go, two by two, and try again somewhere different.
Even for the disciples of Jesus, success wasn’t a guaranteed thing. There were people who didn’t believe their message, didn’t feel it was for them, or just plain weren’t interested. But there were people who did listen, did welcome them and did come to believe. They honed their craft, they spoke from their hearts and their inspiration, and more and more people came to believe. Still, there was always the risk that they would need to walk away, so they stepped out in faith but tempered it with practicality and a dose of reality.
I think there’s a point in every person’s life where they have to walk away from something because it isn’t productive, isn’t safe or isn’t fulfilling. Sometimes they have to leave everything behind and travel light. I don’t think it’s an easy decision most of the time. It’s hard to walk away from a melody that haunts you but isn’t really complete, a message that captures you but doesn’t seem to have the same excitement and relevance for others, or a situation that may be familiar but which has a negative impact. It’s scary to move to something new and unfamiliar, wondering whether this will be the right choice or the wrong one.
I think the disciples had to step out in faith, using the guidelines Jesus gave them, using their minds, senses and heart to judge whether or not this was a place that would be receptive of their message, and not being afraid to cut their losses and move on if it didn’t work out. I don’t think it would hurt for me to remember that as well. Sometimes one has to risk in order to gain.
Now where did I put my Birkenstocks? And do I have to leave my Kindle and iPod behind? Yes? oh, well. Some things are more important than musicals and best-sellers.