“The Lord… sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town” (Lk 10:1)
This facet of Scripture often finds it’s way into my idle reflections. Why did Jesus decide to send his disciples ahead of him in pairs? He does this with both the Apostles (Mk 6:7) and the Seventy (two) disciples. It’s interesting to me that he puts them in these groups of two. Explanations for this pairing range from helping the disciples to have more courage in preaching to a method of holding each other accountable. These are fine reasons for Jesus’ decision, but I recently thought of another aspect that I’d like to share with you my dear readers of The Catholic Outpost.
You see, most people seem to read these events from the perspective of efficiency; a concern for the best way to get the message to the most people. With that kind of approach, the question naturally arises: why cut your outreach in half by pairing them up? This is especially true if every disciple/apostle is given the same message and the same authority. Naturally, the answers to that question will use a similar hermeneutic. The answers thus center on how pairing helps the message get out there: accountability, consistency and credibility of the message, the psychological comfort of having a partner, or preventing loneliness that could weaken the messenger. There is nothing wrong with these kinds of concerns; they are pretty practical and Jesus was not above being practical.
The Good News of Friendship
But, I think there might be something more to this than clever human resource management. You see, I think that Jesus sent his disciples two by two because the relationship between the disciples is itself part of the message. The revelation of Jesus Christ is not just that he is our savior, but that he is one of a Trinity; that he is the Son in a union of Divine Persons as a single God. The astounding truth of our God, a truth that could never be figured out by reason alone, is that relationship is itself central to who God is. This is not something that can be communicated by mere words, because, no matter how many times we say it, the proposition that “we believe in one God who is three persons” never quite sits right with our human minds. How can three persons be a single God? It is a profound mystery – in fact, it is the most central mystery of our faith. Like all such mysteries of the faith, they are less propositions to be stated and more realities to be experienced. Unlike a puzzle, a mystery is something you enter into, pondering it and coming to know it more like an old friend than like your multiplication tables from elementary school.
If that is the case, if the the mystery of a communion of persons cannot be explained or simply stated, then how can it be communicated? By witness. Christ not only began a disciple-master relationship with his followers, but a brother-brother relationship between those who call themselves disciples. By sending them in pairs, Jesus allows for their evangelization to have a character of friendship and community. Now the towns would witness not only their preaching and miracles, but the thousand quiet ways that the bond between them would find expression. Glances of support, gestures of service, an ambient sense of connection would complement all the conversations, the laughter, the shared trials that these two disciples would have on their journey. The witness of this kind of bond must have reached many who were not quite sold on the preaching and the miracles alone. “See how they love one another” they must have said to themselves. “There is something they share that I do not have; something like friendship, but there is more.” Perhaps it was as if their friendship were given a greater form by their common discipleship, making the friendship between them almost into another person in it’s own right.
That, I believe, is just as much part of Jesus’ motivation for sending them in pairs as was the legal requirement of two witnesses or the concern for guarding against loneliness. And that has paid off in the history of the Church, with many famous pairs of Saints who were known as much for their friendship with each other as for their personal sanctity. Sts. Francis and Claire of Assisi are one such example. Another famous pair is that of Sts. Basil and Gregory, whose friendship was such that they even share a feast day. St. Gregory of Nazianzen famously wrote of this friendship:
“When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper… We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit… Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue.”
That friendship was fruitful enough to lead both of them to obtain the rare title of “Doctor of the Church.” So we can see how the model of two-by-two was effective when Christ first used it and in the early Church. Indeed, such bonds of unity prove fruitful today. Actually, what spurred me to write this reflection was the fruitful labor of the podcast “Catholic Stuff You Should Know” put on by a group of priests who had become friends in seminary. Their podcast is informative and engaging, but I believe the most endearing quality of their work is the way that their friendship and unity are almost tangible to the listener. It draws you in and gives you the sense that you belong to a communion of persons. That, in my opinion, is why their content is so easily and widely received.
So what can you do with this little reflection of mine? Here are a few quick take-aways:
- Reflect: How many close friends do you have who share the faith? Do you close yourself off from fellow believers? What are your reasons?
- It is possible to be friends with non-Catholics, but the highest form of friendship on this earth requires a shared faith. In an ideal world, every Catholic would have at least one CBF (Catholic Best Friend).
- Pray: Ask God to provide for you a close friend and ally in the faith. Ask him to help you appreciate and foster the friendships you already have.
- Act: If you have close friends who share the faith, consider having a conversation about how you can “spur each other on to virtue.” Seek guidance from a trusted spiritual adviser about fostering holier friendships.
As always, thanks for reading! Like, comment, and share if you found this helpful!