This coming Sunday is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. The scene is that Jesus and the disciples have been moving around the Sea of Galilee in ministry. They have been at it for a while. Jesus admonishes them: The admonition “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” And so they look to put ashore and to just that. But the crowds follow. “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. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.”
The text is not specific enough to know if the ones coming and going in great number were people that had been following Jesus already, were folks drawn in by the missionary endeavors, or were folks who simply lived in the locale. In any case, whatever Jesus’ plan for he and the apostles to have time apart and alone in order to rest and renew, the people have other ideas, hungering within for something more – even if they could not name the hunger. Perhaps they too needed rest. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. Maybe this is why “they hastened.”
But it is interesting to note that the people did not “follow” Jesus to the deserted place; they went ahead on their own. This Greek word, epiginosko, usually means “thorough knowledge about.” That is, the prefix epi- implies a more detailed knowledge than ginosko by itself. People had “come to know,” but know (or recognize) what? What do they expect from Jesus? What do they “recognize” or think they “know” about him that leads them to go to where he is going? What motivates people to drop everything and seek Jesus today? Perhaps they intuitively understood the need to come away and rest.
William Lane offers: “…withdrawal of the multitude from the several Galilean villages to the wilderness where they experienced Jesus’ compassion was the direct result of the mission activity of the Twelve. By accenting the relationship of the multitude to the disciples (“they saw them, and they recognized them and they ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them”) Mark shows that the provision of rest in the wilderness was the ultimate intention behind the disciples’ commission by Jesus.” It is notable that the same word for “rest” (anapausasthe) is also used of our eternal reward – truly, the ultimate intention of God.
That God provides rest for his people within the wilderness is a recurring theme in the Scripture. It was the literal rest of the wilderness generation led by Moses and Joshua which became the type of the final rest promised to the people of God in a second exodus in the preaching of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The ancient hope of rest within the wilderness is to be fulfilled as Jesus gathers his disciples to a wilderness-place that they may be by themselves. The disciples and the multitudes that pursue them prove to be the people of the new exodus. The presence of Jesus and the provision of God will give to this time of withdrawal the character of rest within the wilderness.
…and what about us? Life busy? Busy with what? Do you need to come away and rest?
William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974) 223-26
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