12 Jul 2015
“[Jesus] called the twelve and began to send them out two by two …” (Mark 6:7)
In the name …
This past week the Calvo’s were out in Boston for a couple of days. You can tell you’ve been in South Deerfield for a long time when you have a hard time figuring out how to use a hotel elevator. Around the bank of elevators is a touch screen pad mounted on the wall. You’re supposed to select which floor you want and then it tells you which elevator will take you there. Then, once you’re actually on the elevator there’s no way to change your mind. That machine is going to take you to that floor whether you like it or not. There are no buttons inside the elevator car. You made a choice and once those elevator doors close you’re committed to it.
But here’s another Boston story. We went to a very popular, but small, North End restaurant for lunch. It’s one of those places where you have to share a table with the other customers when it’s busy, and it’s almost impossible to not eavesdrop when that happens. So there’s a guy sitting across from me and a young lady next to me. I guess he’s trying to mentor her. He’s encouraging her to keep trying different business ventures and to not let past failures discourage her, and with this in mind he starts telling her about his father. His dad had tried all sorts of businesses and kept failing. He lost his wife’s inheritance by starting up a series of tanning salons, but he did this in Texas. Who needs tanning salons in Texas? But what caught my attention was that in between all of these different failed ventures, according to his son’s story, the father kept returning to the pulpit as his safety net. Every time he had no where else to turn, he became a pastor again.
The story about the elevator is a story about commitment. The story about this guy’s father is a story about convenience. And these are the two choices we all face when it comes to faith and church. Are we going to be committed Christians or are we going to be convenient Christians? Once we have made our choice to believe does the analogy of the elevator and no way to get off until we get to where we are supposed to be make sense or is Jesus someone we turn to only when all else has failed and we have nothing left?
And this is the same choice that the two readings from today’s Mass present to us. Amos was an Old Testament prophet, but he didn’t want to be. He was very content being a shepherd, but God said to him in the fields, “‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:15) And Amos went. At this time Israel was a separate and hostile nation from Judah. Amos wasn’t sent to his own people of Judah. God sent him instead to the people of Israel, and to the religious center of that country, to the king’s chapel. There Amos prophesied words of judgment. For this the priests of Bethel ordered the prophet to leave their temple and their country, and those were the words that were read in today’s Lesson by Bill Girardi. This shepherd who didn’t want to be a prophet faced the real possibility of injury and death, but his commitment to God was unfailing. Once he made his choice, there was no turning back.
Then there’s also the story of Jesus sending out His disciples. This is another story about the choice of commitment. Jesus needs the disciples for His ministry to continue. This is the only Gospel account where His followers are sent out on their own before the resurrection. And when Mark tells this story he separates their going out from their coming back with the story of the execution of John the Baptist. Now that story may seem strange and completely out of place, but I think Mark is subtly letting us know that the disciples are being asked to stay committed, just like John, no matter what the cost.
But what really impresses me about this account is that Jesus sends the disciples out “two by two.” There is an Old Testament provision that the testimony of two people is needed for authentication, but I wonder if the disciples are sent out in pairs by Jesus not to vouch for each other, but for moral support for each other. Amos, John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples are all examples of how hard it is to truly commit to God. Maybe the message of “two by two” is a reminder of how important we are to each other because it is hard to stay committed. Maybe with the start of Christianity we find here a lesson on the importance of church, of this community, of Sundays, of us being here for each other.
I know I’ve mentioned it before, but over the years I’ve had the opportunity to meet several of the participants of our Saturday evening AA meetings. What never ceases to amaze me is that once these alcoholics become sober they stick around for the next person who may need their support. Even though they may not personally need AA meetings any longer to stay sober, they keep coming back to help the ones who do. Our commitment of faith is never about a tiny little closed circle around each of us. Our commitment of faith is about helping others too, and I think that’s part of the message of Jesus’ sending out the disciples “two by two.” They were paired up to support each other. We’re here to support each other.
That pastor who kept coming back to work for the church because everything else failed is a story of a convenient faith. Our faith choice has to be more like that Boston elevator. Once we’ve made the choice to believe, we have to stay with it until we get to where we’re supposed to go. And today’s Gospel story of the disciples is the message that we don’t have to do this on our own, that each of us is here for each other. This is why an outdoor movie night, a Red Sox game, a YMSofR picnic, a church dinner or BBQ, a Youth Retreat or even a revamped School of Christian Living that we’re discussing after Mass are all important for church because they can bring us together. Let us pray that our faith is not a convenient one, but rather that it is a committed faith, and that we can count on each other to help us live that commitment. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo