The first reading for today is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians he mentions one of the value: self-sufficiency: “I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” (Philippians 4:11-12)
Paul’s statement can certainly be applied to my life. I have lived in a wooden shack with a tin roof in the slums of Kenya to a very nice, modern house with all the amenities of modern life in America. I have learned to be self-sufficient. Or maybe it is that I have learned to be adaptable.
But it strikes me that I have been self-sufficient, but only to a degree. When I went on mission to Kenya I was sent with another disciple. When I think about most things in my life I was paired up with someone, part of a team, never really all on my own to be truly self-sufficient. I have a friend who solo-hiked the Continental Divide from Canada to the Mexican border. That is pretty self-sufficient. But friends helped him logistically with supplies forwarded to small town post offices where my friend could come off the trail and resupply. Point being, are we really truly and purely self-sufficient.
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 or 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 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 get 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 needs 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.