“Are we almost there?” Noelle asked, eagerly leaning forward from the back seat of the car. “I can’t wait to go swimming!”
“There it is!” Cameron shouted as the car rounded a bend in the drive and the little cottage came into view. Dad parked by the front door, and Noelle and Cameron helped unpack the car. The smaller children played on the swing set in the yard, and Mom swept and dusted inside the cottage.
“I’m starving!” declared Cameron when they finished their work. “Me, too,” said Noelle. “When are we going to eat, Mom?”
“Soon,” Mom replied, getting out some sloppy joe meat, chips and buns. She put the meat in a pan and turned on the burner. Then she plugged in the coffeepot. “How about macaroni and cheese with your sloppy joes?” she suggested as she turned on another burner. Immediately, all the lights went off. “Oh, no!” exclaimed Mom. “I must have blown a fuse.”
Dad got up and went to find the fuse box. “Looks like there are too many things on one of the circuits,” he said when he came back. “We’ll have to turn off a few lights whenever we want to use the stove.”
Soon their lunch was ready, and they sat down to enjoy it together. “This is fun,” said Noelle. “It’s our first real vacation in ages.”
“I know,” said Mom thoughtfully. “That over-loaded fuse reminds me of our family lately. We’ve been so busy getting Dad’s business started and redecorating the house. Then with piano lessons, Little League games, housework, and homework, I think we’ve been overloaded, too. We’ve been so busy that we haven’t had much time to spend together and enjoy each other.”
Dad nodded. “Let’s evaluate our activities during this vacation and see which ones we could cut out of our schedules,” he suggested. Dad turned to Cameron. “How about getting my Bible from the shelf over there, Son? Let’s have family devotions right now–that’s one activity we should always take time for.”
“Right,” said Cameron getting the Bible. “That and my Little League games. But we could skip the piano lessons,” he added with a grin. “And homework.”
Dad chuckled. “I don’t think so,” he said. “We’ll talk about it later.”
How do you handle it when your plans get changed, even for good reasons? Do you feel disappointed or angry? The passage from Mark’s Gospel gives us some ideas about how to handle unexpected changes in plans.
Jesus’ disciples led busy lives. They were tired. They were too busy from ministry with Jesus and the people to even find time to eat. Jesus displayed His concern for practical matters. His disciples had just returned from a ministry trip, so He expected them to “come aside…and rest awhile.” Jesus saw the problems and suggested that they get away and get some rest.
Jesus also recognized, honoured, and tended to His own tiredness. He pulled His disciples away from their labour and striving. We see a Saviour who probes below the surfaces of our busy lives and pinpoints the hunger our culture won’t allow us to name: the hunger for space, reflection, solitude, nourishment, recreation, rest, and sleep.
Jesus was also tired emotionally. He had just lost John the Baptist, his beloved cousin and prophet. We read about his death in Mark 6:14-29. John the Baptist baptized Jesus and spent a lifetime in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus. To make matters worse, Jesus lost him to murder. This was a terrifying reminder that God’s faithful servants are not immune to violent, senseless deaths. If we want proof, all we have to do is look at what happens to Christians in countries such as North Korea and China. Perhaps Jesus felt that His own death was closer and His own ministry was more ominous. He had many reasons to feel heartbroken and tired emotionally.
Jesus made sure that His disciples took care of themselves both spiritually and physically. He wants His modern disciples to take care of themselves as well. That’s why He created the Sabbath. We are well-advised to heed the words of this prayer:
Slow me down, Lord.
Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind.
Steady my hurried pace.
Give me, amidst the day’s confusion
the calmness of the everlasting hills.
Break the tension of my nerves and muscles
with the soothing music of singing streams
that live in my memory.
Help me to know the magical, restoring power of sleep.
Teach me the art of taking minute vacations…
slowing down to look at a flower,
to chat with a friend,
to read a few lines from a good book.
of the fable of the hare and the tortoise;
that the race is not always to the swift;
that there is more to life than measuring its speed.
Let me look up at the branches of the towering oak
and know that…it grew slowly…and well.
to send my own roots down deep…
into the soils of life’s endearing values.
That I may grow toward the stars of my greater destiny.
Slow me down, Lord.
How long has it been since we were quiet and still in God’s presence with no agenda other than a desire to sit at His feet? A little solitude can give us an opportunity to reconnect with our spiritual life. It is an important time to rest, pray and renew our spirits.
According to a Greek legend, in ancient Athens a man noticed the great storyteller Aesop playing childish games with some little boys. The man laughed at Aesop and asked him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity. Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the man, “Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bow implies.”
The man looked at it for several minutes but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, “If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually, but if you let it go slack, it will be more fit for use when you want it.”
Rest is essential, especially for ministers. Time alone with God is important. We aren’t built to keep going at full steam without stopping until we fall over. We need breaks once in a while. Unfortunately, to quote the great Scottish poet Robert Burns, the best laid plans often go astray.
Despite His own weariness, Jesus ministered to the needy crowd because He saw them as “sheep not having a shepherd.” This phrase appears repeatedly in the Old Testament; it refers to the fact that the leaders in Israel had abdicated their role as shepherds. Also significant, Jesus’ compassion for the multitudes is expressed by His staying to teach them. We are familiar with verses that say Jesus had compassion and fed people or healed them. We often forget that teaching is also compassion. Jesus saw their need.
Jesus had compassion for the people. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd. In other words, they were leaderless. They were dumb and defenseless. They wanted a spokesperson. They were vulnerable. They were a milling mass that could be turned by a leader, a voice or a protector to the uses of good or evil. Today the masses can also be vulnerable to fickle and volatile movements. If we want proof, all we have to do is look at Donald Trump, especially when he was the President of the United States. People saw his rhetoric and statements on Twitter as gospel. It was his supporters who stormed the United States Capital building in January of 2021 in an attempt to block the certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
The Shepherd promised by God arrived and taught the bewildered flock. He was the true Shepherd they lacked. He did not leave them on their own because God did not leave them. Through Jesus they learned about God’s reign. He taught them these things:
- God loves them and is ready to forgive their sins.
- Though the world treats them as last, in God’s eyes they are first.
- God is their true Ruler, and God’s reign is one of justice, peace and love.
Jesus also taught them that, if they accept His teaching and receive the reign of God into their lives, then they must treat others as God treated them: love one another, welcome the stranger, forgive their enemies, care for the needs and welcome the least and forgotten to their table.
Jesus helped the masses by teaching them, organizing them, speaking for them and feeding them. Many leaders play on people’s emotions in order to gain control. For example, Adolph Hitler had the verbal ability to whip the German people into a frenzy. The people did not ask if what Hitler said was right or wrong. Jesus did not play that game. He did not want to make the people shallow believers whose faith had to be constantly reinforced by emotional jabs. He taught them many things in order to build up their enthusiasm for the foundations of truth that would sustain them.
Jesus saw people as more important than His own plans and need for rest. He saw them not as an interruption but as an opportunity to reveal His loving care and His compassionate power to meet their needs. He saw them as God sees them. Similarly, we must also see people as God sees them and do what we can to meet their physical, spiritual and emotional needs.
Rather than chronicling this part of Jesus’ ministry in Gennesaret in detail, Mark says only that wherever Jesus went, people ran to Him, hoping to be healed and blessed. All those who touched Him in faith were made well. Was Jesus disappointed to think that the people missed the substance of the truth? We don’t know, but we do know that He chose to be known as a servant. Rather than being insulted by the sick who were brought to Him, He was flattered to know that the first purpose of His earthly mission was being accomplished. The sick people had faith and determination. They were freed from their illnesses and they were made whole. Are the people who touch our lives set free and made whole, or do we add to their chains and increase their fragmentation?
If we didn’t know it before, we now know the world’s need for a Shepherd. As we navigate a world where the losses from COVID-19 have been too many to count and where in the wake of the resulting grief and uncertainty many have not been able to make sense of it, there are people who need our Christian hope, help and love. People who are sick want to be healed. People who are hungry want to be fed. There are needs all around us. Sometimes these needs are in our congregations and sometimes they are spread throughout our communities. In both cases our faith communities can play an active role in meeting these needs. God welcomes us into His healing power, grace and peace. When we are filled and renewed, we are sent out to share these gifts within our world. When we are tired from that ministry, we are welcomed again into His healing power, grace and peace, and the pattern continues.
Jesus knows that we often feel tired and overwhelmed when we do His work in our world. He went through it Himself. He gave Himself completely for us. He laid down His own life to meet our needs—first through His years of living, working, teaching, preaching, healing, suffering, dying and rising again. He gave Himself for us so we might live even when we are overburdened, overstretched, over-matched in every way.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1353-1355)
- “Teach Strong.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Overloaded.” Retrieved form email@example.com
- McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 132-143)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 1363-1366)
- Richard Innes, “Slow Me Down, Lord.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
- Dr. Ed Young, “Your Spirit and Strength Renewed.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Strength from Solitude.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Anne Graham Lotz, “Jesus Saw the People as God Does.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 16th Sunday (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Richard Innes, “Come Apart and Rest A While.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
- The Rev. Janet Hunt, “Seeing With the Eyes of Jesus: Like Sheep Without a Shepherd.” Retrieved from https://dancingwiththeword.com
- Debie Thomas, “The Gift of Rest.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
- Dr. Kari Vo, “Balancing Needs.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org