“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
Rest. A break from all the bustle and activity. A chance to renew, to stop, to slow. An end, a pause from work, if only for a little while. An opportunity to stop doing that you may simply be. A space in time to process, reflect upon, think, pray, to listen. We have lives filled with so much activity, so much work, so many obligations that the very idea of rest is as though the Holy Grail itself. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a complaint. I love my life, I love being in this parish. It’s more an observation that somewhere in all the things that make up a blessedly frenetic life, I think I’ve forgotten how to rest. It came to me last week as I stood in the very place where Jesus uttered those words to his disciples, realizing the deep need – and then someone on the tour asked, “Father, what do you think Jesus…” And the moment of my own musing and prayer passed.
“…his heart was moved with compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” It is the same moment felt by parents, nurses, teachers, and anyone who serves others. A deep longing unfulfilled as one rises to the moment – hopefully with compassion – to serve.
Time and space, a deserted place by ourselves…. and the opportunity to rest a while. Those things are such precious commodities that we cannot seem to place on our busy calendars. I imagine we all need to “come away …. And rest for a while” in order that we can be present to the God who is always present to us – so that in various times in our lives, tragedies and great moment of joy alike, we are better prepared to see God’s will, God’s plan and God’s presence around us. We can know how to pray, how to act and how to be in the world. We need time to process our lives – be those times mundane and ordinary or extraordinary.
But that’s hard to do; hard to find the space in our calendars. But it is not a suggestion. The words of Ps 23, “The Lord is my shepherd…” does not invite, suggest, or cajole, v.2 says quite clearly “In green pastures he makes me lie down” We are a people who desperately needs rest yet resists it. And so, the Lord commands it.
In the Gospel, the Apostles have just returned from their first mission, The Good Shepherd invites them to come away and rest. Many assume they must be tired and need to relax and put their feet up. I think it is more likely that they are over-the-top enthusiastic because they have experienced the power of God in their mission as they cured people and cast out evil spirits. They are pumped, excited…but do they know what this all means? If you read the fuller passage in Mark’s gospel, the answer is “No.” They really do not get what is happening at all. The farther we move into Mark’s gospel, the more clueless the disciples seems to become. Maybe it is because they do not have the space and time to ponder or consider how all this is fitting together. They need to process it all. They need to come away. They need to rest and make room for God.
Jesus invites them to a deserted place, the kind of place in Mark’s gospel where ones goes to pray (Mk 1:35); where one also meets face to face both one’s temptations and divine assistance (Mk 1:12-13). Perhaps the disciples were in danger of becoming a bit too enamored of their own abilities to perform wonders. The deserted place will help them to process what has just happened – and maybe to see it is not about them and their experience at all. They are part of a bigger picture in which God has seen the sheep of Israel and had compassion for them who for so long have had such poor shepherds.
The deserted place will help the Apostles more deeply experience the divine compassion that called them into mission and that is the source of all they are able to do. From their ability to receive divine compassion in their own neediness, they become able to be the compassion of God toward others. In one small encounter to another, they will become compassionate people.
It is the same for us. In our ordinary moments. In the extraordinary moments. In the moment in between. From time to time we need to come awayas the Good Shepherd commands:
To make room in our lives for God
To see what God would have us see
To begin to understand how we are to pray
To face our temptations
To find divine assistance
To see the compassion of God that surrounds us
To become what we see
To see what we were always meant to be – the compassion of God in our time and place
Come away to be what God would have us be