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Traveling Mercies

In the Gospel Reading, before his ascension Christ gives his disciples a last command. Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel. And he adds a list of things that will characterize those of his followers who obey this command: they will drive out demons, speak new languages, handle snakes safely, drink deadly things without harm, and heal the sick by the laying on of hands. 

Like a good mother, Christ has already thought about all these things for his traveling people.

Why this list? Isn’t it supposed to be just love that characterizes Christ’s followers? 

Well, think of it this way.

Once when one of my children was traveling to Bangladesh, I made a list of dos and don’ts  for him. It was a list intended to help keep him safe.

Finding housing with English speakers was on the list, so that there wouldn’t be language problems. “Don’t drink the water!” was definitely on the list, and so was “Stay away from people who are obviously sick!” The list finished with this prohibition: “Whatever you do, don’t come into contact with the ground!”  I know it sounds ridiculous; but hookworm is endemic in that part of the world, and you can get full of worms if you let a body part with an open wound come into contact with infected ground. 

You can see that what was on my list of things to worry about are on Christ’s list of things not to worry about: language problems, deadly drinks, sicknesses, even snakes—well, hookworms, anyway. (Demons weren’t on my list, but maybe they would have been if I could have thought of anything to say about them.)

So the things on Christ’s list are the things that you (or your mother) might worry about if you were traveling in dangerous places.  Since Christ is commanding his followers to head out to all the world, maybe it is only fair of him to tell those who obey him that they don’t need to worry about any of these things. Like a good mother, Christ has already thought about all these things for his traveling people, and in his mercy he has made provision for them all.

So here is one way to understand Christ’s list of the things that characterize those who believe in Christ and obey him. Whatever roads the journey of their lives takes them on, the care of the Lord encompasses those who travel in his name.

Eleonore Stump

Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University

Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go