I turned 33 last month. In a conversation leading up to my birthday, one of my girlfriends (in ruminating on her own upcoming 33rd birthday), commented that this particular year reminds her of Jesus. A Catholic-educated Muslim, she knows tradition teaches that Jesus died at 33.
In contemplating this, we discussed how our lives, at this age, stack up against Jesus’. Ultimately, we decided they don’t. Jesus started a movement, which challenged the political and religious institutions of his day; healed people; walked several marathons as a traveling rabbi; saved the world; prompted a new genre of literature (the gospel); lived a compassion-filled, selfless existence; and revolutionized the fishing industry. While intentionally comedic, the conversation planted seeds for more serious reflection, and caused me to meditate not on the last 33 years, but the last six months.
In January, I left my job in response to God’s question, “What do you want the next phase of your life to look like?” At that time, I had nothing lined up. No immediate teaching opportunities, no transition job, no submitted applications, nothing. I just knew office management wasn’t how I wanted to spend the next phase, and that I needed to take this step of obedience.
Upon leaving, I felt tremendous freedom and joy—acting in obedience was worth the risk. Yet, this was quickly met with uncertainty and deep-rooted feelings of irresponsibility. In confessing the latter emotion to one of my old professors, he simply responded, “Perhaps this is the most responsible thing you can be doing with your life.”
While this brought a measure of comfort, and a different lens through which to view my decision, I still felt guilty for voluntarily leaving my job, giving up my disposable income, and relinquishing my benefits. Surrendering my worldly security looked, and felt, foolish.
But, this is the thing. If we’re serious about following Jesus, we’re bound to look ridiculous in the world’s eyes.
In Luke’s Gospel, the disciples embark on two missionary journeys. Jesus sends out the Twelve in 9.1-6 and the Seventy-Two in 10.1-12. Both times, Jesus tells them to take nothing for their journey—no staff, bag, bread, money, extra shirt, or sandals. They are to gallivant throughout Galilee without food, clothing, or predictable lodging.
While the text doesn’t say, I can’t help but wonder if the disciples thought these instructions were a bit harsh, and whether or not they compared Jesus’ instructions to those of other rabbis. I wonder if they thought Jesus was being absurd and unnecessarily rigorous, especially considering it was their first time going solo on the missionary field. If anything, it seems like Jesus should've granted them a little extra provision to help them through.
But, this is the thing. The disciples had already given up everything to follow Jesus. When Jesus invited them to tag along, they left their careers, their livelihoods, their families. While the seriousness of this reality would sink in slowly, they nonetheless chose to follow, trusting in Jesus’ words and God’s provision. Now, as they are being sent, Jesus asks them to do the same. He wants to teach them an entirely new level of dependence; an entirely new reliance upon God’s provision.
And, this is exactly what the text shows us. The instruction to travel without provisions, alludes to the level of faith required for the discipleship journey. Jesus expects his disciples to be welcomed in the same way he had been (at least thus far), and therefore, they are to rely on the hospitality of the villages they come across. Their needs will be met by those who welcome God’s message. Although much changes between chapters 9 and 10 (resistance mounts to Jesus’ proclamation, and as a result the disciples are no longer being welcomed with open arms, resulting in a new urgency which requires them to travel light), the overarching theme between these two passages is the same: worldly concerns shouldn’t hinder Kingdom work, for divine provision far surpasses worldly provision.*
At the end of Luke’s Gospel, in 22.35, the circumstances have changed yet again. The Last Supper is drawing to an end and the disciples are preparing to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, where he’ll be crucified. Before giving them a new set of instructions, Jesus refers back to the two earlier missionary journeys, and jogs their memories about God’s provision by asking, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” The disciples respond “Nothing.”
In prayer the other night, I had a panic moment about what the next six months of my life look like, and whether or not teaching alone will provide what I need to live on. I found myself flirting with the idea of giving it up for a real career, convincing myself that a responsible person would have a full-time, consistent, 401(k) matching job.
In the midst of this doubting deluge, God jogged my memory by asking, "Jess, have you lacked anything?"
In the silence, I surveyed the last six months, and was reminded that a bagel patron provided me with breakfast nearly every day; that a friend offered me a consulting job during my teaching interim; that another friend donated a brand new pair of slippers to keep my feet warm during winter; that my PG&E bill was only $5 last month thanks to the CA Climate Credit; that a massage fairy blessed me with certificates to keep me pain free. The list goes on.
Humbled by this litany, I simply responded, "No Lord, nothing."
The last six months have been a tremendous gift. Why God has allowed me this time off to prepare for, and solely focus on, teaching I know not. I just know that despite worldly critique, it has in fact been the most responsible use of my time. Too much has been learned and gained; too much good fruit has been borne and bad fruit lopped off; and too many relationships have grown and deepened for me to doubt this. Like the disciples, God has taught me an entirely new level of dependence on his provision. It hasn’t been easy, nor have I always welcomed it. I’ll always be tempted by worldly security. Yet, despite my hesitancy and resistance, as I continue to surrender this, God continues to prove himself. As I enter into these next six months, I trust it’ll be no different.
* Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke (NICNT). Eerdmans, 1997.