“The Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he himself to visit.” –Luke 10:1
Today’s gospel is a treasure trove of possibilities for a homily. I could talk about the harvest, the need for laborers, being a lamb among the wolves of the world, traveling light, dependence on God, being a messenger of peace, gratitude in accepting what is offered to you, learning to rejoice, and more. As I said, there is a lot to work with. So I have lots of ideas for other times, but I kept coming back to the idea of the evangelical dynamic duo – he sent ahead of him in pairs.
Sometimes I wonder why a certain idea gets stuck in my head. This week I think it is because I have been watching the US Olympic Swimming Trials. Even though the US has lots of world-rank swimmers in each event, only the top two swimmer in each event will go to Rio; a dynamic duo to represent our country. The ultimate swimming dynamic duo was front and center on Friday night: Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. For the last thirteen years they have been right there, side by side, slugging it out for gold medals. Now they are going one last time as a pair in the men’s 200 Individual Medley.
So, of course, that gets me thinking about all the dynamic duos: Bert and Ernie, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Calvin and Hobbes, Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the team that birth to the expression Dynamic Duo – Batman and Robin. When artist Bob Kane created The Batman in 1938, the so-called Dark Knight was a solitary figure. But in 1940 Kane decided that his nocturnal detective needed a partner. So, hoping to draw in younger readers, Kane introduced Robin, the Boy Wonder. Together Batman and Robin would become the icons symbols of justice in Gotham City as the Dynamic Duo. (And in case you were wondering, the expression was first use in issue “Batman #4” published on October 31, 1940 – holy exciting history, Batman! Sorry, just had to do it…)
I think that too often these days, we feel like we have to do it on our own, like we are Superman, we have to be self-made, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. And ironically, stop and think about that very phrase. The original intention of the expression, which dates from the 18th century, is that it is specifically impossible for a person to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. If at some point in our lives we were lifted up by our bootstraps, perhaps today is a good today to thank the people who lifted you.
I am not saying amazing things can’t happen based on a solo effort, but I would point the major league record for career unassisted double plays is six (Tris Speaker over a 22-year career). On an average day in the majors, there are 25-30 double plays each day – the most common is the 6-4-3: shortstop to 2nd to 1st (or 4-6-3). The best double-play dynamic duo was Alan Trammel & Sweet Lou Whittaker of the Detroit Tigers. They combined more double-plays together than any other shortstop and second base duo in baseball history. Here’s the thing. As great as they were, they weren’t perfect. In 1984 Trammel made 10 errors at shortstop and Sweet Lou made 15 at second base. Yet they still managed to lead the Tigers to their first World Series title in 36 years.
There is something special about a great duo—a team. I suspect that Jesus had this in mind when he sent out the seventy. There is a lot of rich symbolism in the total number, but I would suggest to you that Jesus he understood the importance of forming pairs to go out and do his work. It’s possible that they could have covered more ground or preached to more people had Jesus just let them go at it alone, but Jesus sees something in this idea of sending them out together. Together they could be great despite all the errors each one might make.
Jesus made sure that they could be there for each other, hold each other accountable, and remind each other that their mission was not to be cluttered by unnecessary baggage (carry no purse, no sandals, etc.). He made sure they could lift each other’s spirits when times got tough or tell stories to each other to pass the time on their long journeys. But above all, by sending them out in pairs, Jesus reassured them that they were not alone. This work to which they were called—and the work to which we ourselves are called—would not be a solitary endeavor. As Scripture says, life does at times feel like we are sheep in the midst of wolves, but we do not have to face the wolves by ourselves.
And so we are sent with someone by our side, be they a spouse, a sibling, a best friend, or the community of a church. In our own lives, we make mistakes and we clash at times with the other half of our dynamic duo. I’m sure the seventy didn’t always get along, either. Still, they knew they needed each other. Batman needed Robin. Trammel needed Sweet Lou. And we need each other. We were never meant to go through life or mission completely alone. We were made for each other in order to bring about the Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. This is not solitary work. It is not a priest thing or a lay thing; it is an everyone thing. By your baptism you have been anointed and sent, you are one of “72” in this time and place. Now…. Find your team, pair up, and become that dynamic duo for Christ. Be there for each other.
“The Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he himself to visit.”