This coming Sunday is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. “The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.”
At the conclusion of their mission to the Galilean villages the disciples returned to Jesus. He had commissioned them to be his emissaries (Ch. 6:7–13), and it is appropriate to this circumstance that they should report to him how they had fulfilled their commission. While the word “apostles” is accurately translated in v.30, there is a tendency in modern reading to associate this with “the Twelve” and to associate the term with an official title. What might get lost is the whole purpose of why they were sent. Simply put they were missionaries.
David Lose notes: “There is something both beautiful and poignant about Jesus’ response to the disciples’ activity. When they come back to tell about all they’d done, he doesn’t greet them with praise or encouragement. That might seem odd to us who live in the ‘age of affirmation.’ Nor does he correct them or do an assessment of their work, as one might expect from a teacher. Rather, he looks deeper and sees their need. They are weary, tired, worn out by the constant coming and going of the crowds that follow them. And so rather than praise or affirm, encourage or critique, Jesus invites them to come away, to find a moment of solitude, and to rest. There will be time for praise and instruction later. What is most needful now is rest.”
Jesus invited them to a deserted/wilderness place to anapausasthe (rest, remain quiet, cease). It is noteworthy that Mark twice notes that the place of rest is in the wilderness, apart from the crowds of people. The word eremos most literally refers to an uninhabited place in contrast to polis = “a populated place,” “city,” “town.” While sparseness of people and vegetation often go together in the Middle East, e.g., a desert region; this word centers more on the lack of population than the lack of vegetation. Note that in v.39 the crowd sits down on the green grass.
Jesus was conscious of the efforts that the apostle’s mission entailed and knew that it was important to recover their strength. In fact, as the event following the Sabbath in Capernaum shows (Mk 1:35), Jesus also sometimes went to a deserted place to rest and to recover His strength through His deep prayer to God the Father.
Although the term anapausasthe does not necessarily imply prayer or contemplation, Jesus’ own experience (especially in Luke) points to “withdrawal” and “rest” as exactly those times when Jesus is renewed by prayer and contemplation – renewed for the missionary endeavor.
Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel, #264), summons us to live a contemplative spirit: “The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. But if this is to come about, we need to recover a contemplative spirit which can help us to realize ever anew that we have been entrusted with a treasure which makes us more human and helps us to lead a new life. There is nothing more precious which we can give to others.” Pope Francis nicely connects the rest/contemplation as the needed component to the missionary life in which we pass on what we have received to others.
Jesus commands it, Pope Francis recommends it, but will we make space in our lives for the needed rest and relaxation?