One of the most tiresome aspects of travel is baggage - getting it all together, deciding what to take, what to leave, making sure you’ve left nothing out – passport, pills, papers, tickets, money, spare this or that.
You’ve jammed, or neatly packed it into your bag or bags. What does it weigh? Will it fit the luggage rack or overhead locker? Will it have to go in the hold? Will they reject it?
Then you’re on your way – are you sure you’ve got all your bags? How are you going to manage them, up stairs, through doors, along aisles in buses, trains and planes – you only have one pair of hands!
All aboard – but will someone, accidentally or otherwise, take your bag from the storage place at the end of the carriage? Yes, you’re on the plane – but are you sure your bag is. Maybe there wasn’t room, maybe they put it on the wrong plane.
Arrival is just as bad, getting all your gear together, perhaps finding a trolley that works – but that’s no use on stairs. Find the right carousel, wait for your black bag, indistinguishable from so many others… It’s a pain, but it’s aye been. It’s a physical burden and a mental burden, a worry.
The Romans had the same problem. Roman soldiers carried their weapons and equipment, their food, camping gear, clothing, even part of their fort, a junior telegraph pole that would form part of the palisade around their camp. They were going nowhere fast, hindered by their load, their impedimenta, the things that impeded movement and progress. They had a word for it – impediti.
If their opponents were fast-moving, lightly-clad and armed, all they had to do was to stay out of their way, the Romans would never catch them, while they could easily sting the Romans.
The answer was an expedition, whose progress was expedited, not impeded. They left all their junk behind them, and with light loads, out-manoeuvred their enemies, pursuing or escaping them, quickly and easily attaining their goal. They had a word for that, too – expediti.
It’s the same today – minimum baggage, and everything is quick and easy.
What about our journey through life, following Jesus? Our Collect in today’s Mass makes the same point, asking God that we be unencumbered, expediti, in body and soul. How much junk am I carrying around? What do I refuse to abandon and leave behind? All my bad habits, my attachments, my grudges and anger, enmities, pride, fear, lack of trust, things that prevent me moving on? Do I really need ten pairs of that? Can’t I risk leaving five pairs behind? Can’t I take the risk of leaving my comfort zone, the things that delude me into thinking I’m in control and which insulate me from reality? Can’t I risk letting Divine Providence supply my needs? I’m worth more than ten sparrows. The widow in today’s gospel took that risk, giving herself and all she had to God. Neither fear nor earthly prudence held her back.
It’s not just a journey I’m on, I’m in a battle, unseen warfare, and just like the Romans, if I want to be able to escape my enemies, manoeuvre and do battle with them, beat them, I need to be like the baptised, a naked wrestler, anointed with baptismal oil, a slippery customer, to be like like those first disciples, carrying nothing superfluous. Our prayer asks God to shut out all the things that are contrary to us, that might injure us or seek to do so. We could leave behind all those things, intangible and tangible, which burden us, impede our freedom of movement. Grant us, Lord, freedom of mind, of spirit, because all the obstacles, our vices and failings, even the apparently most carnal, are in fact sicknesses of our souls.
Lord, you came to set us free, so that we might follow you, unimpeded, to victory and to glory. AMEN!