Mark is a Gospel in a rush. If it was set today then you could imagine Jesus having one of those electric scooters (that all the children seem to have these days), so that he could quickly get from one place to the other without being caught up in traffic. Or a jet-ski for getting across the Sea of Galilee faster. And Mark and Jesus pack a lot into this chapter. Jesus is rejected in his hometown, then he sends the 12 Apostles out to teach, John the Baptist is beheaded, Jesus feeds the thousands, walks on water and does multiple healings wherever he goes. We should take note then when Jesus says: “come aside and rest awhile.”
We need to slow down
There are two portions of scripture today tacked-together. The first is the bit before he does the big outdoor catering event and the second is after he’s taken an early morning stroll on the lake. We might have hoped for something a bit more exciting – like the bit in the middle – but perhaps that’s the point? Maybe we need to slow down and look more closely at these verses? Ones which we might often overlook because of the more eye-catching ones in between.
In the passage from a couple of weeks ago, Jesus had sent the Apostles out in pairs. They were to travel light, reliant on other people’s hospitality. And they were to teach and to heal as they go. They must have been effective since we’re told that King Herod had got to hear about it.
Now they’re back and they’re buzzing, eager to tell Jesus all that had happened. It reminded me of one of my sisters when we were growing up. She’d spend all day with her latest forever best friend – and the moment she got home she would be on the phone to the very same friend retelling every single moment of the time that they’d just spent together. They were building a relationship. Great for them – but annoying as anything for anyone else who wanted to use the only phone in the house!
So, there they all were. Telling Jesus about the healings, the demons, the towns which had welcomed them – and those which hadn’t. They’d been out of their comfort zone, living one moment at a time, not knowing what’s going to happen next. You can imagine a mixture of excitement and exhaustion, can’t you?
Do we have that same sense of excitement? In our prayers do we excitedly talk about all that’s happened to us? Do we share the highs and the lows, our dreams for what’s next? I wonder how much time we spend building our relationship to God in prayer?
Back in our Gospel we’re told that they are surrounded by other people whilst the de-brief is going on, probably being continually interrupted. Jesus sees that the disciples need a time of quiet to rest and take stock of what’s just taken place. And a time to eat too. He suggests that they find a deserted place. To come aside and rest awhile. To go on a retreat!
It made me think of God looking after the physical needs of Elijah after his encounter with the prophets of Baal. God gives him time to sleep and he feeds him in the wilderness until he was ready to move on – to move on physically, mentally and spiritually.
In the desert
I came across these words from one commentator. If you can’t imagine yourself in a desert, then try to think about being out on the moors:
- In the desert, we can have a sense of ourselves again. No noise besides our noise and the wind, no company besides the plants and animals.
- In the desert, we hear the words we speak, we hear the silence we produce, we attend to the movements of our body.
- In the desert, we recover our hearts back again from our mobile phones, our rushed lives. It acts like a corridor that functions as a way in and out of our constant work for justice.
- The world is in such a precarious situation that we need this constant movement in and out of the desert that solid spiritual practices provide. These practices become important because our presence and work as Christians in the world is fundamental to the lives of those who are the least of these.
We need to grasp those times of solitude if we get them. But we’re never really alone, for God is there with us. Jesus says to us: come aside and rest awhile.
Too busy doing?
So, the disciples and Jesus get in a boat (again) and head for a deserted place, a wilderness, to get that down time. But perhaps they are rowing or sailing fairly close to the shore, since the crowd see what’s happening and get their first.
And, consequently, the disciples never do get their rest and relaxation. You can tell they’re bit narky and irritable from some of the comments to Jesus during the feeding miracle that follows. It’s ironic that Jesus feeds the thousands in the crowd later that day but didn’t get the time to feed the 12 earlier.
I wonder if we recognise the need in ourselves to get away and take stock? Are we so busy ‘doing’ that we run out of puff and get short-tempered?
Sheep without a shepherd
Of course, Jesus couldn’t say ‘no’ to the crowd. He had compassion for them. They were looking for leadership, which they weren’t getting from Herod or anyone else. He echoes Moses who was thinking about who should succeed him. “Who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.” Numbers 27:17
And we see something similar in our final verses. Mark is summarising here, in his shorthand way, not one particular event but lots of them. Wherever they go, crowds appear hoping for friends and family to be healed. Jesus is like a pop-up clinic. And all credit to the villagers and townsfolk for looking after their nearest and dearest and bringing them to Jesus.
Clearly, the tale of the healing of the woman with the bleed must have got around since others were now trying to copy her in touching Jesus’ clothes. And these people are brought to the busiest part of town: to the market-places, where people meet-up and where the buying and selling and politics are done. This is where the healings take place.
As the people of God, are we in today’s market-places? Are we where people meet-up? Where commerce and politics are done?
Action and heart
As the hands and feet of Jesus on earth, our role is to look out for all that is crying for our attention and demanding our care. As God’s people now, here, in this place, we are called to discern what work of God the Spirit is asking us to do. To have the same compassion as Jesus on those who need us.
Martin Luther King said: “At the end… most of us will have to repent, not of the great evil we have done, but simply great apathy that has prevented us from doing anything.”
But, as Jesus did with his disciples in our reading, he is telling us that we must also come aside and rest awhile. To slow down and pay attention to our own hearts, our own movements. To how we are living our lives. Without a spiritual life, oriented by daily practice of prayer and meditation, of pause and alone-ness, we cannot do all the work we need to do and we cannot be all that we are called to be.
A heart without action is ineffective – but an action without a heart is empty.
We need to do, or have, both. Amen
“Come aside and rest awhile” was given by Ian Banks on Sunday 18th July 2021. Firstly to an on-line group from Bury and Heywood and then in St James, Heywood. It was based on Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56. “Come aside and rest awhile” is also the tag line for St Joseph’s Prayer Centre, a frequent place for our church Retreats.
Please see this commentary from Claudio Carvalhaes.