In the generations before the birth of Christ, the twelve sons of Jacob, renamed Israel by the angel with whom he wrestled) had gone their separate ways and formed twelve tribes of the children of Israel, settling in different areas of what was then the land of Canaan. As time went on, the family was further split apart as their people were conquered by the Assyrians and by Babylonia. When the Romans conquered the land, only the remnant of the tribe of Judah was left to claim the title of Israelites. It looked like a sad ending to a people who were prophesied to become as numerous as grains of sand or stars in the sky.
The coming of the Messiah changed all that. In an effort to reunite the people who had turned away and forgotten their God, Jesus selected twelve apostles whom he sent out to preach repentance and to bring the lost tribes back into unity with the family.
Family: for me, that is the key to this passage. The Twelve of the inner circle of disciples were family together, just as the twelve sons of Israel were family. When my sons and daughters grew to maturity, they went out into the world and are raising their own children, but we are all still family. We watch over each other, we help each other out, we pray for the needs of one another. We don’t face the trials and confusion of the world alone.
Christ didn’t send the apostles out alone, either; he sent them out in pairs. I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I would think grown men of that time should be able to venture out without someone to hold their hand. Perhaps it was for self-defense – or to keep one from making a total fool of himself or getting into trouble. His partner would be there to say “Cool it, James. This argument is getting us nowhere. If they don’t want to listen, we’ll just go somewhere else.” And he would shake the dust from his sandals, as was proper for a true Israelite to do when leaving the unclean house of a pagan.
But I tend to think there was another reason for the pairing. While the Christian faith involves a personal relationship with God, it also involves community. By sending the apostles out in pairs, Jesus was stressing the importance of community, of fellowship, and of the Christian family working together.
When we have a family gathering, it isn’t a one child/one parent event. It’s all of us (or as many as possible) coming together to share, to be whole with one another. When we go to church, it isn’t a one-on-one relationship with our priest, but our Catholic community coming together. We work together, we pray together, we love together. Like the Twelve, we’re family, and that’s more valuable than material riches