As you can see, our lambs are big fans of the buddy system. Often the twins, Thérèse and Bernadette, stick together, but other times the pairings change without rhyme or reason. In the wild, there’s safety in numbers but even within the security of our pastures, their natural instincts kick in and send them out two-by-two. It’s rare to see one of our ewe lambs off grazing by herself for more than a few minutes. As a shepherdess, it would raise a red flag and prompt a welfare check as to why she has isolated herself from the flock.
Humans too, are meant to flock together. Yet, in the aftermath of the pandemic, many people are still suffering from the isolation we all experienced in one way or another. Some remain psychologically or physically isolated by debilitating fear, virtual prisoners in their minds or in their homes. Others are struggling to reestablish social connections, family bonds, or friendships that were tested or severed by sickness, circumstances, or political differences. Many have disconnected or distanced themselves from their previous churches and faith communities and have learned to settle for a glossy, two-dimensional version of fellowship and worship on a flat-screen TV. Somewhere “out there,” there are brothers and sisters who have lost confidence in the God who loves them, the God who longs for them, the God who promised to care for them, the God who created them to be a vital part of His human family, each with a distinct and holy purpose. Sadly, others have never known God or the fellowship of believers at all.
One of the most beautiful testimonies to the “connectedness” God intends for us can be found in the Gospel of Mark (Chapter 6:7):
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…So they went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
Why two-by-two? Yes, like our lambs, there's safety in numbers. But my guess is Jesus wasn’t as much concerned about the safety of his disciples as he was with providing them with a spiritual support system: a fellow-believer with whom to share the journey, a no-frills co-worker in Christ, a witness who would hold his companion accountable for speaking the Truth, someone to lean into when things got tough, and someone to rejoice and praise God with when people were delivered from their demons, their sicknesses, and their unbelief through the power of Jesus’ name.
In sending his disciples out two-by-two in different directions to preach and proclaim the Good News, Jesus not only maximized his reach but also set the precedent that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) In discipleship, clearly there's power and provision where Jesus gives his authority, for Scripture also tells us that when the twelve returned, “they reported to Jesus what they had done.” (Luke 9:10) One can only imagine the joy that filled the air as they compared notes and marveled at miracles.
So, what does this mean for modern-day disciples? The mission and the message remain unchanged. The mission field, however, has shifted from real deserts and dusty roads to virtual ones—those barren spaces (digital or actual) where people have closed themselves up or off from the bountiful land of our living God, possessed by fear, soul-sick, anxious, or depressed and hunkered behind bolted doors. It’s not just a pandemic thing. It’s a crisis of faith like we’ve not seen before, one that begs light and new life in Christ.
Maybe it’s time for us to double-up and double down on our efforts; to buddy-up and grab a soul-sister or brother by the hand and go out in search of the doubtful, the lost, and the left-behind. If you don’t have an actual physical person with whom to enter the mission field two-by-two, then grab the hand of your Guardian Angel and pray without ceasing. Link arms with one or more the patron saints of the lonely or anxious (think St. Rita and St. Dymphna) and ask them to intercede with you for someone in need or the world at large. Most of all, hold fast to the Holy Spirit, whose power makes all things possible.
One thing is certain: all of us at one time or another have been the lost sheep. While Jesus is our ultimate Redeemer and Rescuer, he has entrusted to each of us the call to bring our brothers and sisters back to (or into) the flock, into full communion with Christ and his Church. We can and we must because we know what it feels like to be lost and found. By God's grace and mercy, someone came looking for us!
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew 28:18–20)
Think about that. Jesus himself has promised to “buddy-up” with us to the end of the age to make disciples of all nations. What a sweeping command…to all nations! Does that mean you should grab a tunic and sandals? Maybe. But more likely, the key word in this Great Commission is simply: Go!
Go knock on your lonely neighbor’s door and see if she'd like some company. Go pick up the phone and invite a wayward friend back to Sunday services. Go have dinner with a faith-challenged family member and share what the Lord is doing in your life. Go teach a child the Word of God. Go ask a coworker to be your prayer partner. Go to your community center and share the love. Go…with Jesus, in Jesus, for Jesus.
There’s no better friend for the journey.