16th Sunday Ordinary Time
Cycle B. 22nd JULY 2012.
Mark 6. 30-34
Dcn Tony van Vuuren
Throughout Mark’s gospel those following Jesus are usually called “disciples.” But in today’s passage they are referred to as “Apostles.” It is the only time in the gospel that Mark uses that title. It’s a new name for them and suggests a new relationship with Jesus. The Shepherd is preparing His “Apostles,” to be sent in His name to teach and act as He did.
It is during a busy and challenging time that we rejoin the 12 Apostles on their journey with Jesus through Mark’s Gospel. If you recall; last week He sent his Apostles off two by two. This week, Mark describes their return from their mission. They report to Jesus all the things they have done and taught. In these few verses Mark brings out very strongly, Jesus’ compassion and human understanding. He planned to give his Apostles a well-earned rest. They had evidently worked hard while out on their mission and a few days rest would restore their energy and recharge their spiritual batteries.
During their absence Jesus Himself must have been hard pressed, preaching and dealing with the crowds alone; He too needed a rest. He, therefore, planned that they should all go to a quiet corner of the Sea of Galilee where there was no village and where they would not be disturbed. He is bringing them to the restful waters where they can revive their spirits and evaluate what has happened on their mission.
It seems though that the mission of the Apostles was bearing fruit; apparently so successfully that the people would not let them get away and rest. The deserted place that Jesus longed for to take his disciples to rest was no longer deserted, but crowded with people. More and more people wanted to hear the teaching, feel the peace, and be healed. Jesus and the Apostles are shown to put the needs of the people first, even so far as not eating because there was simply no time.
Jesus could have reacted with anger that his planned retreat has been undermined and frustrated; He could have sent them away, but again His compassion takes over. Seeing these simple people of Galilee so anxious to hear about God and His mercy, He lets them stay and begins to preach the good news of forgiveness and hope to them. For the most part they were simple, uneducated villagers, shepherds and fishermen.
He saw that they were leaderless and was moved with compassion and pity for them. They were, as our Lord described them, “like sheep without a shepherd,” wandering about half-lost. The official teachers had no time for the ordinary people; but God’s compassion, incarnate in Jesus, embraces the crowd gathered there. He has compassion on the multitude; loving them with a love infused with empathy; sharing their feelings, willing to stand in their shoes, and that is why they flocked to Him.
Caring is never easy. Some of us are willing to care a little, provided we are in the mood, and it’s not too inconvenient and doesn’t upset our own plans. But to care as Jesus did, when it does upset our plans; that is the real test. When we care, we are living the Gospel.
Unselfishness is also never easy. Yet at certain times it is easier than at others. It is easier when we are able to plan our good deeds; when the deed is of our own choosing, and we happen to be in the mood, and it causes us the minimum inconvenience and disruption. At other times unselfishness is particularly difficult; when the deed is not of our own choosing, when we don’t feel in the mood, and when it is sprung on us at an awkward moment. In such cases we have to forget ourselves, and set aside our feelings and our plans.
A real sacrifice is called for.
Having said that, there is nothing selfish about taking time out for ourselves.
It’s wiser to be more humble and to admit to ourselves that occasionally we suffer the same tiredness and lack of energy as everyone else. Jesus didn’t make the mistake of thinking He and His Apostles could carry on, indefinitely, without any kind of break, so neither should we.
The reality is that freedom from activity and stimulation gives us time to think things through and reflect about things in a way we can’t do if we’re busy all the time. It would be far healthier, physically, mentally and spiritually, if we realise that we all need some free time to recuperate our energies, not just so that we can carry on our work better when we go back to it, but so as to maintain a sense of balance and inner equilibrium.
Another reason why rest is necessary is that the more exhausted we are, the more difficult it is to pray or to keep up any kind of devotional practice or regular contact with God.
It’s a truism of spiritual direction that we need to acquire a certain level of stillness and calm in order to pray properly and nothing interferes with stillness as much as feeling harassed, rushed, and distracted.
The temptation, when we’re busy and agitated, is to put off praying or turning to God in a state of quiet relaxation. Experience should tell us that we have to plan deliberately to set aside such moments. If we wait for them to happen spontaneously we’re likely to end up losing the habit of prayer altogether.
So there are all kinds of reasons why quiet, rest and leisure are important factors even from a spiritual point of view. This is the sort of wisdom that Jesus takes for granted and plans for in the case of the Apostles, and it’s surely a principle that we also can use to order the priorities in our own lives.
It’s a consolation for us to know though that Jesus too had to cope with interruptions. As much as He was in control He too had His plans upset. Good can come out of interruptions. They prevent us from becoming totally preoccupied with ourselves.
* “We should accept surprises that upset our plans; shatter our dreams; give a completely different outcome to our day; maybe to our life.
It’s not simply chance. Leave God free to weave the pattern of our days.”
* Archbishop Helder Camara (Brazil)