Two by two

February 7, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is in Mark 6:7-13.

He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick — no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Jesus sent his disciples out in twos to preach repentance, transformation, and to offer compassion through healing. They could have covered twice the territory, reached the hearts and minds of twice as many people if they had gone out individually. Clearly, Jesus wasn’t into efficiency!

Why two? When I advise clients about fund raising, I counsel them to talk to prospective donors in twos. They support one another in what is typically an uneasy task. They usually are inexperienced, which fosters a lack of confidence and that often leads to an expectation of failure. Also, one can be talking while the other is observing the prospective donor, being especially alert to nonverbal cues and carefully listening to questions instead of formulating responses. The results are usually much more productive than when solicitors go solo.

I suspect that Jesus understands the same thing. This is the first mission of the Twelve to take the good news out to people. While they had watched and listened to Jesus countless times, they hadn’t done it themselves. I’m sure they were naturally anxious and at least a little doubtful of their abilities. In company with another they could more easily muster the courage required and they could complement one another’s strengths. And one could cover the other’s back in case of hostility. And they had someone to both commiserate with and to celebrate success with. Then there’s always the human ego that wants to assert itself. When there are two it is easier to hold egos in check. Two made a much better package than one.

Jesus was an incredibly insightful and wise man. He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew that they had a much better chance of success by traveling in twos. He also made sure that they maintained their humility. They couldn’t take anything with them and could dress only in the simplest, crudest tunic. They were to accept the hospitality that was offered and not look around for a better one. All so that Jesus’ message and mercy could shine forth brightly.

In our society we pride ourselves on independence, on individual achievement. We like to take the credit for ourselves. Strong egos are admired and even attract followers. Doing things with others, teaming up, is inefficient and requires negotiation of roles and responsibilities. It’s far easier and more expedient to do things on our own. I certainly fall prey to that at times for varying reasons, all seemingly good to me at the time.

I was recently at a conference on creativity and innovation. One day we were led through a series of individual and group exercise by an artist. In one of the activities small groups of five each had to create a display using irregularly cut colored adhesive sheets to portray a single word. Our group was given the word ‘exuberance.’ When the others came to look at our work, they got it. They shouted out, “Joy, happiness,” and one woman said, “Exuberance.” When we all went to look at another group’s effort, we all scratched our heads. There was silence and a few hesitating ideas. None of us got it. Why the difference? One member of their group chose not to work with the others and did her own thing. The result was a disjointed, puzzling creation that didn’t convey the idea of the word ‘delicate.’

I’ve had other similar experiences. The point is that we often are more effective working with someone else or groups than we are alone. We are all members of one body as Paul put it, each with our own strengths. One no more important than another. The task of bringing about the kingdom of God on earth requires us to work together. No one of us can do it alone. Jesus sends us out in twos or more so that we will have the resources we need to accomplish the task. I am wise to keep that in mind rather than relying solely upon myself.



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