In today’s gospel (Mk 10:1-9), Jesus sends out 72 of His followers to prepare the way for His visits to local towns, telling them to proclaim that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” They are sent out “like lambs among wolves,” with no money or extra gear. It almost seems irresponsible of Jesus to send them out that way, but there is wisdom in what He does. Deprived of supplies, the disciples are forced to depend not just on God’s providence, but also each other. For Christ doesn’t send them out alone, but in pairs (as we know from horror movies, splitting up to cover more ground is rarely a good idea). The gospel doesn’t tell us how Our Lord sorted out the pairings. We don’t know who was sent out with whom. We only know that all of them were His followers. Their shared love for Jesus and willingness to carry out His mission provided them with the greatest foundation for friendship.
C.S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, describes the love shared by friends as being a higher form of love than romantic love. He writes: “Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; friends hardly ever about their friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for friendship, is not even the best.” Unlike romantic love, Lewis argues, the love that exists among friends is not exclusive, but grows with the expansion of the circle of friendship to include others. The disciples have become friends with Christ, who has introduced them to each other as His friends and who sends them out to invite more people to discover the joy of His friendship. This is the nature of the Christian apostolate – to expand the circle of those who have discovered the Lord Jesus, and who have become His friends.
Such friendship makes the experience of mission sweet. The saints whose feast day we celebrate today – Saints Timothy and Titus – were friends and collaborators with St. Paul in his missionary journeys, through which the Apostle to the Gentiles was working to enlarge the circle of Christ’s friends. These men entrusted themselves to Paul’s leadership, and were zealous in the mission, as revealed by St. Paul’s high praise of them. Their friendship was a great consolation to Paul in the midst of his sufferings for the apostolate, which included physical attacks, calumny, imprisonment, rejection, and finally martyrdom. Their friendship, and the friendship of many others that Paul enjoyed during his travels, made sweet the arduous work of proclaiming the Kingdom.
Sadly, true friendship is in short supply these days. Movies and television often glamorize shallow friendships while emphasizing the search for romantic love. But the loneliness most people experience is due to a lack of true friendship, not romance. Social media offers an ersatz version of friendship, that typically lacks the necessary element of shared authentic love that seeks the good of the other. In its worst form it feeds into our darkest impulses, becoming something destructive and antithetical to true friendship. One of the things for which I pray is that our parish be a place where we might experience together the intense joy of real Christian fellowship, where side-by-side as friends in Christ we worship together and engage in the mission of expanding the circle of Our Lord’s friends.