Cynic philosophers and many peasants had only one cloak. More relevant here, some Palestinian Jews known as Essenes showed their devotion to God by a simple lifestyle, especially those who lived in the wilderness (1QS 1.11-13; 6.22-23; Jos. Ant. 18.20; War 2.122). Josephus also indicates that Essenes did not take provisions when they traveled; they expected hospitality from fellow Essenes in every city (War 2.124-25).
Yet perhaps most relevant is the model of Israel's ancient prophets in times of national apostasy (for example, 1 Kings 18:13). One may recall Elisha's unwillingness to accept Naaman's gifts, preferring to allow the Aramean God-fearer to remain wholly indebted to Israel's God; his servant Gehazi, however, determined to profit from Naaman and suffered for it (2 Kings 5:20-27). Elisha reminded Gehazi that the current time of spiritual crisis rendered the acquisition of material possessions a vain pursuit (2 Kings 5:26). In contrast to Elisha, many Western Christians waste their income on worldly pursuits rather than committing all their resources to the kingdom.
On long trips, one typically brought both a change of clothes and money in a bag tied to one's belt or fastened around one's neck (Stambaugh and Balch 1986:38); Jesus here forbids the normal basic apparatus for travel. By prohibiting a bag (Mt 10:10; Mk 6:8) Jesus forbids begging, the survival method of the otherwise almost equally simple Cynics (Meeks 1986:107). Mark allows at least staff (for self-protection) and sandals, but Matthew's demand for simplicity is still more radical, prohibiting even these. This is not a matter of asceticism but of priorities, as in 6:19-34. These prohibitions would distinguish the disciples from other kinds of wandering preachers (like the Cynics in the Greek world) "whose questionable reputation they did not want to share" (Liefeld 1967:260; see also p. 247).
Paul's examples of apostleship in 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 and 2 Cor 4:8-12; 6:3-10; 11:24-33 (presented like philosophers' lists of sufferings) show the demands of a true apostolic call. Another early church document warns that if a prophet wants to stay more than three days or asks for money, he is a false prophet (Did. 11:5; compare 2 Cor 11:7-15); Matthew may have even had such false teachers in mind as he dictated this warning (Gundry 1982:186).
Although Christ does not send all Christians the same way he sent these disciples, their obedience to their calling challenges us to consider what we can sacrifice for the work of God's kingdom. Missionaries today will not all follow these specifications exactly (just as Mark apparently toned down Q's instructions for his own community); hospitality is not as dependable in most cultures as it was in first-century Jewish Palestine. Nevertheless, the message of this text summons us to radically value our mission above all possessions and to live as simply as necessary to devote our resources to evangelism.
Those who strive to "witness" to their neighbors by demonstrating that Christ can "bless" them with abundant possessions may unwittingly witness for a false gospel, reinforcing the same materialistic goals that drive many young men in ghettos to sell drugs and many politicians to sell their souls. Non-Christians often have the spiritual sense to recognize what much of the church ignores: tacking Jesus' name onto worldly values does not sanctify those values, it just profanes Jesus' name.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.