By The Rev. Sherry Deets
7 Pentecost, Proper 9 – July 7, 2013
2 Kings 5:1-14 and Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Here is a question my friend, David Lose, poses after reading this gospel story: Which was the greater gift Jesus bestowed on the disciples: the power to heal and cast out demons? Or the power to work together and rely on the hospitality of others? Which was the greater gift?
David suggests that when we read these passages, our attention immediately goes to those things that are beyond our immediate experience: the healings, the casting out of demons. Or maybe we are grabbed by Jesus’ promise that the disciples will be able to tread on scorpions and snakes (though that is likely symbolic for overcoming evil). Or perhaps it’s the language of “the book of heaven” that gets us to sit up and pay attention.
But in reading the passage this time, two things stood out. First, the disciples go out in teams. And, second, they are instructed to take nothing with them and so must rely entirely upon the hospitality and generosity of others.
The team thing, I get. Because when the powers of the world are challenged, all kinds of things get upset. And so Jesus sends them out in pairs. So, when one falters, the other can help. When one is lost, the other can seek the way. When one is discouraged, the other can hold faith for both for a while. That’s what the company of believers does – we hold on to each other, console each other, encourage and embolden each other, and even believe for each other.
But we forget that. We live in a culture that insists that it’s all up to us as individuals, that “you only go around once,” and that there’s not enough for everyone. And so we’ve been taught to “look out for number one” and that “the one who dies with the most toys wins.” Jesus’ reminder that we find success only with and for each other is therefore a timely gift to his disciples both then and now.
He also commands that they take nothing with them. This means that the disciples – far more, by the way, than the usual twelve we think about – must depend on the generosity of others. For their meals … for a place to stay … for, well, just about everything.
Most of us find such dependence uncomfortable. It makes us feel like we’re not prepared, maybe unsafe, definitely vulnerable.
I wonder if that’s the point. I mean, we are vulnerable. We forget this, too, going to great lengths to manufacture and perpetuate illusions of control, independence, and invulnerability. But any illness, any loss, any death or disappointment or tragedy reminds us painfully of just how incredibly vulnerable we are.
And so Jesus sends his disciples out in pairs and instructs them to rely entirely upon the hospitality of others. Why? Because this is our natural state: we are stronger when we stay together and our welfare is inextricably linked to that of each other. “No man,” John Donne wrote, “is an island.” The loss of any, he went on to say, diminishes each.
It is the Fourth of July weekend. The pilgrims and pioneers who settled this land were incredibly aware that their survival depended on each other. Thy colonies they eventually established, we called “commonwealths,” places where the good of any individual was inextricably linked to the good of the whole. And as Benjamin Franklin said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.”
Margaret Wheatley has this to say about acknowledging interconnectedness: Acknowledging interconnectedness . requires that we take responsibility for noticing how we affect other people, that we realize how our behavior and choices impact others, even at a distance… Before the culture of rampant individualism took over, traditional societies had for millennia based their cultures on profound knowledge of enlightenment; most cultures, even today, have words and concepts to describe it. In South Africa, the word is ubuntu . Archbishop Tutu describes it: `Ubuntu means my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life. We say `a person is a person through other people.’ It is not `I think therefore I am.’ It says rather: `I am human because I belong.’
And there is an African proverb that says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
All of which is why I tend to agree with David, that of the gifts Jesus gives his disciples, the greater may just be that of teamwork and trusting obedience. Because when we work together, when we recall that God said it is not good for us to be alone, when we see our hope and welfare as inextricably linked to that of those around us, then we not only can accomplish so much more than we possibly could alone, but we also discover that our names, along with those first disciples, are written in the book of heaven.
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