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As the apostles returned from their mission, Jesus said to them: Come away to a deserted place … and rest a while.
Today’s gospel offers us words of comfort and solace in the midst of great mental and physical turmoil.
Immediately prior to this moment:
- Jesus had been rejected in his home town of Nazareth;
- the disciples had been sent out to proclaim the Good News;
- and John the Baptist had been brutally executed.
Soon to come is:
- the feeding of the 5000;
- Jesus walking on the water;
- and the healing of many in Genesaret.
The sixth chapter of Mark’s gospel is certainly packed with incident and urgency, and yet, in the midst of all that, Jesus says: Come away to a deserted place … and rest a while.
There is a great lesson for us in these words.
We live hectic lives. We live our lives in a way that allows little, if any, space for solitude and rest. It is almost as though we are afraid or ashamed of craving such moments of sanctuary in our lives.
As our gospel reading opens the disciples had just returned from their two-by-two mission:
- to travel in faith,
- to cast out demons
- and to cure the sick.
Those returning disciples must have been so excited, with so many stories to tell – and yet Jesus greeted them with these words: Come away to a deserted place … and rest a while. Jesus did not encourage idle chatter and excited gossip; instead he told the disciples to pause in God’s presence, and to rest.
For more than a year we have been journeying through a different type of deserted place.
The complicated jigsaw of lockdown, isolation, social distancing, sheltering and quarantine has left many feeling that they have experienced the desolation and emptiness of a deserted place.
However, along with the reality of the whole lexicon of Covid-related words and situations, there has been very little rest.
For many the workload has increased. For others it has changed into the unfamiliar and the uncertain.
Others have had to deal with separation from loved ones, and the loss of dear ones who were not allowed the final consolation and reassurance of the familial hug and kiss.
Whatever our personal circumstances may have been throughout the times of pandemic-driven constraints, any moments of being in a deserted place have not often been associated with rest – let alone feelings of resting in God’s presence.
Jesus often modelled the importance of the rest we can enjoy in times of separation from our fellow human beings – that is, the separation which allows us to rest in the loving embrace of our heavenly Father.
To be a disciple of Christ calls us to sometimes go against the grain of:
- received wisdom,
- force of habit
- and personal inclination and preference.
To go against such a strong grain is exhausting.
Those faithful disciples who have worked faithfully to follow Christ in this way deserve some time in that deserted place, resting in God.
To be a disciple of Christ calls us to persevere in carrying our own crosses as we let go of our old lives and journey into the unknown.
Those faithful disciples also deserve the rest we are offered through our faith in Christ.
One of the greatest problems we face is rooted in the way we feed those feelings of anxiety that stand between God’s call on our lives, and our human, risk-adverse tendency to ignore God’s call in order that we might travel our own path:
- a path that is always going in the wrong direction;
- a path that is always fraught with worry and failure.
The Dutch writer, Corrie Ten Boom, wrote this:
Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow;
it empties today of its strength.
Rather than drowning in self-induced anxiety, we should listen to the words of Jesus:
- Come away to a deserted place … that is, a place away from the cares of this world, a place where we might be with God alone.
- and rest a while … that is, let go of all that worldly baggage and float in the overwhelming joy of true communion with our heavenly Father.
Today, we stand on the cusp of a new time in our national life.
Many are hoping for freedom, whilst others are journeying in even greater fear.
We need to ask ourselves some important questions today …
- Are our hopes for the coming days centred on ‘self’ or on ‘God’?
- Are our expectations centred on personal likes and dislikes or on the love for our neighbours that is the command of Jesus himself?
- Are our intentions for the coming days focused on self-gratification or on the love and service that was celebrated in the earlier days of the pandemic … those days before anger and impatience took over?
These are big questions … questions that can so easily lead down that self-appointed and self-serving path, that path which leads us away from God.
Rather than dashing forward in blind enthusiasm for the resumption of that which we would prefer to do, let us listen to the words of Jesus:
Come away with me to a deserted place …
and rest a while.
Let us seek that time and place where we can be with God alone.
Then, let us hear the words he whispers as he holds us in rest.
And then, let us get back to doing his work, rather than just indulging our personal whims and fancies.