Mark 10:17-31. Click here to read it.
Time for a shout to St. Patrick. The UMNS ran an article on his life and influence this past week (read it here). Turns out he was a beast at his own form of holy walkabout. The short of it is that Patrick was the son of a Roman official in Britain, and was captured by Irish raiders at age 16, then sold into slavery tending his masters’ sheep. After 6 years’ bondage, he fled and made it home, where his parents learned he felt called to be a priest. He went on to study under another famous priest at the time, St. Martin of Tours, who was pioneering in sharing Christianity with pagans. Pagans in the sense of the “heathens” who lived on the periphery of Roman society.
Remember, Rome had officially become “Christian” now, and so the cities, centers of trade, and seats of power, all jumped on the Jesus train. The Church became associated with the wealthy, powerful, cultured, and educated; the backwoods peoples or “pagans” that made up most of Europe’s population were left out of the Church and left to their own indigenous cultures/religions. After all, these people were “backwards, stupid, and unholy”, plus they wouldn’t have contributed much to the Church’s treasuries, so what did Rome’s religion have to do with them? I don’t think Jesus would’ve been too happy.
St. Martin saw it differently, and Patrick learned the same — that the Gospel was particularly for the least, lowest, left-out, etc. Especially the pagans/heathens. Patrick felt especially called to, guess where…Ireland. Even though in that land I guess he was still legally someone else’s property, a slave. Even though other Christians/Romans opposed such a thing. Even though Celtic/druid religion was firmly in place already (and those guys were really good at, say, making poisons).
What made Patrick so successful, because he was, was immersing himself in the local culture. He jumped in with both feet — living with the common folk, learning their language and customs, and about their existing faith practice. In time, to challenge their old ways, Patrick would turn pagan religious sites/customs into Christian ones. Carving sacred stones into Christian symbols; turning Celtic artwork into the Celtic cross we know today; building churches where druid rituals had been held. Patrick earned mighty credibility with the people and drove paganism out of Ireland. A few hundred years later, when the Empire had fallen, and much of the Church with it, it was Irish missionaries who revived the Church. Boom! Good one, Patty.
Do we relate to his story? Not easily at first. Who wants to be a saint, really? Who wants to go on full-blown mission to foreign people? Who wants to convert a nation? Who wants to help save the whole Church? Not all of us. Well, neither did Patrick in every way when he first set out. He started with a simple and direct mission — there were people being left out of the Gospel, people being left without an alternative to what they had always worshiped, and that was not okay. He wanted them to know Jesus and have another choice, no matter how poor, foreign, or dangerous. That is a desire we need, every one.
And in terms of walkabout, with Patrick for example, we need to know that holy walkabout is not something that can be done halfway. It’s not. Just read Mark 10 for this week, as Jesus is met by the rich man. Spectators might have seen them talking and thought, “that guy talking to Jesus really has it together.” He was righteous and wealthy. But then Jesus hits him with special instructions: go and sell it all and give it all away. The man, or spectators, might’ve said, “Hey, WHY? What’s the deal, Jesus, you don’t tell just everyone to sell their stuff? And this guy has more to lose!”
It was worrisome to the onlookers; even the disciples, who were used to the rich getting whatever they wanted, figured if this guy wasn’t “in” then they were screwed. Besides, their Jewish teachers could’ve said that the man’s wealth was a sign of God’s favor; because of his and his family’s right living, God had blessed him with abundance, so who was Jesus to tell him to throw it away? Sounds like a televangelist’s gospel. Jesus wasn’t down with it. Jesus saw more. Now, be mindful, Jesus didn’t speak this out of anger. There are two key words here — Jesus looked at him and “LOVED HIM” before he said to sell everything. I think Jesus knew that following with one foot in and one foot out wouldn’t cut it. I think Jesus knew that his wealth would be a burden on this journey that would make it impossible. Holy walkabout isn’t halfway.
Think about Australian walkabout one more time. Do you know how deadly that continent is? Go and Google “Australia+deadly” and see. PBS has done a special called “Australia’s Little Assassins”, amongst others, that describe: the deadly oceans (sharks, crocodiles, jellyfish, octopi, etc.), the deadly spiders and snakes (200 venomous slitherers), and the deadly heat/distances. It’s into this environment that Aborigines take little or nothing. If you or I were to pack gear for 6-12 months of walkabout, honestly, we would have to fly Southwest or else the bag fees would be crippling. We’d be trying to cram 6 months of beef jerky in, or an arsenal of firearms, or the hairdryer, etc. And if an authentic Aborigine walked by and saw us all baggage-laden, trying to lug our supplies through the bush, he/she might just see a dead person walking.
Trying to carry all those supplies would spell our doom. Because authentic walkabout cannot be done halfway. To try to pack all our survival gear would be to try to carry home with us, would be trying to keep one foot in the safety/comforts of home, and one foot on the trail. It would be lethal. Aborigines go in with little or no carry-on because they have learned from infancy not to carry home with them into the bush, but to make home out of it. To make one’s way in the journey itself. Two feet in, immersive.
I think Jesus took a look at the rich man and saw someone who was trying to have one foot on the path of discipleship, and one foot dragging the comforts/safety/wealth of home along with him. I think Jesus knew that to try to do both would be deadly to him; and Jesus loved him and wanted to see him make it. Today, consider what you cling to, and where your feet are. Especially the stuff you consider “separate” from your faith life, like wealth or family or relationships or children or work or “home.” Get the priorities right, and don’t hang onto dead weight in this survival journey; it’ll make the difference between life and death.