Most people don’t quite get what’s going on here. First, we have to understand something of the religious behavior of Jesus’ day.
Jesus was an established rabbi; no one questioned His status. He probably wore a distinctive rabbinical garment. We believe that many rabbis wore a sort of uniform marking them as such, though the details are in dispute. But it makes sense they would mark themselves because there was a large number of itinerant rabbis in Palestine at that time, traveling from village to village and spreading good words of encouragement.
This is important to understand: There were two primary types of teaching. One was all about the law itself, called halachah — commandments and legal rulings. There was also a body of less formal teaching referred to as haggadah, a collection of parables, narratives, proverbs, psalms, etc. These latter were designed to uplift and encourage, to feed one’s faith. It was not unheard of to call this sort of stuff “good news” or “gospel.” And it so happened in Jesus’ day this was by far the most popular message offered by rabbis — popular with audiences and rabbis.
There were also a large group of preachers who didn’t qualify as rabbis. A significant number of them were known to be disciples of one rabbi or another. The business of a traveling rabbi calling a number of disciples to accompany him was quite common. Indeed, it was a recognized act of piety for a Jewish man to take leave of his normal vocation and spend some portion of his life as a disciple of some rabbi at least once. This sojourn could last a few months up to several years.
On top of this, we have to keep in mind that there was a broad ferment of Messianic excitement bubbling throughout Jewish society. It had been like that for some years, not least due to the likes of John the Baptist. A great many itinerant preachers reviewed the prophecies in Scripture, along with some mystical visions and whatnot keeping this ferment alive. Quite a few were less than reputable, just looking for a way to avoid actually working. In the mix was all kinds of heathen mystical nonsense; Persian Zoroastrianism was a popular source at this time, as were all things drawn from legends of the Persian Empire, by then some three centuries gone. The ruler who executed John the Baptist attempted to model himself on Persian royalty.
Jesus was sending His disciples out as preachers professing Him as their rabbi, but with a specific message that the Messiah was on the verge of announcing Himself. They had seen His miracles first hand and were going to perform echoes of them as the means to establishing their authority to preach this very different message of good news they had heard Him preach. The context is very clear: They were going forth under Covenant authority to their own Covenant brethren, and within the area of Galilee. Notice that Jesus warns them again preaching to Gentiles.
They all had ties in that area, so it was likely wherever they went that someone would know someone who knew them. Finding at least some limited support was highly likely on those grounds alone. Some relative or friend of the family would put them up and feed them. They were not cast out on the kindness of complete strangers. Thus, they were instructed to avoid any of the common precautions against starving or having to rent a room from total strangers. This was a bit of testing for their faith, but that still misses the point.
This is the Messiah sending His messengers to prepare the way. He was planning to come along behind them and confirm this new message of Messianic authority, both in His unique teaching and in His miracles. It was to mark out the places receptive to His message. If any community rejected His message, they didn’t get to meet their Messiah. They would risk exclusion from the future Messianic Kingdom. This was a matter of testing whether these people could sense the truth with their hearts. Would they welcome the Messiah as He really was, not as a bunch of hucksters tried to imagine with wild propaganda? Would they recognize the implications of the Torah in what these messengers presented? Will their shalom find a home there?
It would be a big mistake to presume these instructions apply to Gentile preachers of the gospel message today. The context is radically different. There are clues for us today, but we need to rightly divide this passage as resting wholly under the Law of Moses.
Let me offer this interesting link for some added depth to Jesus’ rabbinical background.