Restoration: 16th Sunday OT 2018

Last week Jesus sent out his twelve Apostles on mission, and in today’s Gospel they’ve just come back. They report to Jesus “everything they had done and taught.” I saw one comment that this shows a very human failing: focusing on ourselves and what we do, instead of on God and what He’s doing. So at the end of something, we’re likely to think of it as ours, as something we did, our work, our achievement. When really it is God from whom anything truly good comes, and it’s grace that gives any success to what we do. Surely this isn’t a condemnation of the Apostles… but as they grow spiritually, they will have less to say about their work and more to say about what God has done.

Human self-centeredness notwithstanding, the Gospel is catching fire, and people are starting to come. The Apostles had gone out to spread the word among the towns, and now people from all over are coming to see Jesus. You can imagine a few people coming the first day, then more… then getting to be a crowd, and the roads are filling up and the place can’t quite deal with the crowds.

George Pedro, Jesus Speaking To a Crowd
The Apostles definitely can’t deal with the crowds, and Jesus wants to give them a break. They’ve been on mission, they’ve done good work, and Jesus tells them “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” They’re worn out and with all these crowds showing up they don’t even have a chance to eat. Maybe you’ve had days like that. But the call of Jesus isn’t to work ourselves to death, to put our noses to the grindstone and never take a break, to wear ourselves out by working every moment without letting up until we’re dead and we get rewarded for having been so miserable. That’s not it. He called them to hard work, and then He called them to needed rest. Recall this was built in to the plan from the very start: six days you shall work, and on the Sabbath day you shall rest.

The classic phrase is ‘rest and recreation’ and I love that last word. Think about the actual word, to re-create. Sometimes we have to give God a chance to restore and renew us. If you take that word literally, it’s something God does, right? He’s the Creator. Our creativity is in cooperation with His true Creation. That’s the ideal image for our rest and recreation, our leisure time. It isn’t, or at least it shouldn’t be, wasted time. It’s time for God to recreate us.

So that’s what Jesus asks of His Apostles after their work: take a break, rest, recover, be renewed. But sometimes that’s a hard choice to make. Imagine those crowds pressing around them. These people are looking for something from them, they’ve come because they have needs, some of them certainly desperate needs. The image is so strong, to me, just the raw human need pressing from every side. Like a nurse with a call light coming in from every single room. Like a lineman with power lines down in thirty places and he’s the only one out there. Like a soup kitchen with a line around the block for a small pot of food. There’s just no way. There’s too much need.

You know that feeling? That’s when it’s really easy to give up. You can get so overwhelmed, it’s just washing over you. Like when people are talking about everyone we know who’s fighting cancer, and it’s just so much. Or you get excited about fighting poverty and start to realize just how incredibly frustrating and difficult it is to make any real difference. Or just the list of heartache among the people you love the most gets so long that it feels like something’s going to just snap, your heart can’t hurt that much for that many people at once, something has to give.

When that happens, it’s time to run away with Jesus. They left the crowd and got into a boat. I wonder if they felt any pangs of guilt leaving all those people with all those needs, leaving them behind. I wonder if they felt selfish, even thought they’d heard Jesus Himself tell them it was time for a rest. You and I probably won’t hear that directly from God Himself. We have to discern day by day how much to serve and when to rest. Certainly, if we’re following Jesus, we’re willing to stretch ourselves and give ourselves to others even to the point of great suffering. But we also have to be ready to hear Him tell us, “come away and rest awhile.” Because part of giving ourselves to others is letting God make the self we’re giving something worth giving.

They run into a hitch right away. Jesus calls them away to a deserted place, but human need has a way of tracking you down wherever you go. There’s an inescapable quality to it. You can try to withdraw and be re-created, but something is going to find you. In this case, they see the boat shove off and they guess the destination. When Jesus and the Twelve dock on the other shore, the crowd they were escaping has beat them to it; they’re already waiting.

Jesus looks at them and His heart is moved with pity. His heart is big enough to hold all their needs, big enough to hurt for each one of them individually. He sees them like sheep without a shepherd. Well, now they’ve got a Shepherd. He begins to teach them. He never stops giving.

Here’s what I wonder, though. Did the Apostles get their rest? Mark doesn’t say but I imagine they did. I imagine that when Jesus got out of that boat and started ministering to the desperate, needy crowd, He found a way to get them out of the picture and resting. “Guys, there’s a place over there you can stay today… go get that rest, have a hot meal… I’ve got this. I’ll take it from here.”

Just my imagination. But it reminds me of a prayer Saint Pope John XXIII is said to have prayed at the end of each day. More than any other human, the holy father is called to be tuned in and open his heart to every need in the world. Every natural disaster is under his watch. Every famine. Every conflict. Every refugee. How could he function without shutting down, closing his heart, in the face of all this need? Well the St. John XXIII’s prayer every night was along the same lines I think the Apostles might have spoken to Jesus on this occasion as they went for rest while He kept working. Every night the Pope would pray, “Lord, I’ve done my best today. It’s Your Church. I’m going to bed.”

It’s not your job to fix every problem in the world. It’s not possible for you to take in every need. That’s not your calling. Your calling is to hear your mission, give it all you’ve got, and then hand it over to God. It’s not our work, it’s not about what we do, it’s about grace and what God is doing. We play our role and then we go to bed. It’s your mission, Jesus. I hope I helped a little. Goodnight.

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