These instructions are a good start for thinking about how to be a missionary, although there is more in Scripture and in Church history than just these words. The tasks: “preach the kingdom and heal the sick” are well worth discussion. But in this post I will focus on the way that these missionaries are sent.
Christ instructs the Twelve to rely radically on the people they’re sent to serve. “Take nothing for the journey,” he tells them. Don’t even pack an extra shirt! Trust that our God, who watches over the sparrows, will surely care for his servants.
Following these commands is liberating, according to St John Chrysostom. “Nothing makes men so cheerful as being freed from all anxiety and care,” he says. "When Christ had stripped [the disciples] of all, he gave them all.” When missionaries are nourished by those they’ve come to serve, they cannot be condescending or “high minded towards those whom they are teaching, as though giving all and receiving nothing at their hands.” (Chrysostom’s Homily 32 on the Gospel of St Matthew.)
It is all too easy for missionaries to be high minded towards those we’re sent to serve. “We have so much, and they have so little.” Such an easy thing to believe, and so poisonous! Christ’s response is direct: “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Mt 10:8) Give away that extra shirt, and you’ll no longer have any reason to feel superior to your brother.
Here’s a secret: we missionaries usually do pack for the journey. I own a spare shirt, and then some. After all, we don’t want to be a burden on our hosts. We want to be self-reliant. We want to take care of ourselves.
But when our best-laid plans fall through, when we are forced by necessity to rely on the people we’ve been sent to serve... that’s when the missionary work is actually able to begin. No longer able to fend for ourselves, we finally start to “eat such things as are set before you.” When we begin relying on people, we change in their eyes. We cease to become resources, and instead become humans like them. Weak, broken, crying out in pain for God. The missionary becomes “one of us.”
And then folks start to listen.