The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.
"Why don't I come down for a day and help you weed?"
These are words that will almost certainly never come out of my mouth. And they didn't. But they did come from my mother-in-law during a conversation with my wife Bethany recently. We have a large sloped flowerbed in our backyard that leads up to the woods, and we simply hadn't been able to keep up with it this year. Jobs and kids and schedules made this summer tougher for yard work than in the past, and fall weekends hadn't been much better. And to say that the beds had become overgrown with weeds is...an understatement. One of my kids could be up in there and I wouldn't know it.
Our plants were struggling, but Bethany was mentioning how we were going to have to just surrender and wait another season to figure it out. It was too overwhelming of a task to tackle. Bethany said it took several repeated offers from her mom before she finally caved. It still felt too big. But that amazingly generous offer led to a seemingly impossible transformation.
Can I just tell you of the power of two strong, determined women? (about half of you don't need me to tell you anything about that). Talk about being overwhelmed! The weeds had no chance. Bethany and Sue took a day during the middle of last week and spent hour after hour digging in the dirt, filling bag after bag and wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow with weeds. They freed up flowers and native plants that hadn't seen sunlight in months. They were covered in dirt and grime from head to toe, yet God's beauty was being revealed. And when I got home from a meeting and found them in the backyard, they were actually smiling? It's confusing, I know.
And that's the thing about tackling overwhelming tasks with others. It doesn't just make it possible, it can even make it life-giving.
Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs to go before him and help loosen the soil for the kingdom of God to take root. It was a daunting task. People were full of Jewish political and military expectations. Many would not be interested in the message Jesus was bringing. I'm sure the disciples felt overwhelmed.
It was also overwhelming when the risen Jesus stood on the precipice of Mt. Arbel, telling his disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations, teaching them his ways. Even the first step of the journey years earlier must have been overwhelming, when Jesus said to those fishermen, "come and follow me." Yet none of those invitations was toward a solo journey. Every time a hard task came, Jesus made sure that his people didn't do it alone.
But then he ascended, and we forgot.
We quickly become overwhelmed with the need to fix ourselves, accomplish great goals, and do hard daily tasks, because we forget that we weren't made to do this work alone. Jesus never intended to start a religion that fit nicely with rugged individualism and bootstrap theology.
Jesus created a beloved community that would bear each others' sorrows, share in each others' challenges, and partner together in his shared purpose. And it was rooted in mutual love.
Those words may be familiar, but they remain radical. Inviting other people into our lives and also offering to lend a hand with the overwhelming obstacles that our friends may be facing-- that's not normal. But it's how we live into our created purpose. This is one way we participate in God's ongoing redemption of the world. And thank God Jesus has given us his spirit to empower those bonds of community and partnership!
Perhaps it's time to accept a hand. Perhaps it's time to offer one in a new way. We all face overwhelming tasks all the time. Raising families. Figuring out our identities. Dealing with finances. Managing mental health. Processing loss. Exploring faith. Practicing compassion. Keeping up on our weeding!
What a gift to realize that there is joy and movement when we tackle these things alongside fellow followers of Christ.
Jesus, break down the myth of self-sufficiency, and grow humble love in me.