Mark 6.30-34, 53-end
I’ve just come back from a week away in the Lake District with Keith.
We had a lovely time, walking, reading and generally relaxing.
I did some drawing as well, which I’ve come to really enjoy in the last few months.
The main good thing about it, though, was the chance for a break from everyday life.
There are lots of things that I enjoy doing, not least being an LLM here, but I was ready for a holiday.
Of course, there’s nothing special or unique in my need for rest.
We all get tired and need some time off, and we all have our own unique responsibilities, pressures, and concerns.
Even things we enjoy or find fulfilling can become too much at times.
But do we remember that Jesus was no exception to this?
In today’s Gospel reading the disciples have just returned from a mission and are eager to tell Jesus all about it.
He’s also recently been rejected in his own hometown of Nazareth and just learned about the death of his cousin, John the Baptist.
And people are coming and going, not allowing time for Jesus and his disciples to even sit down and have a bite to eat.
Jesus, in his wisdom, recognises that this can’t go on and searches for rest for both him and his disciples.
I imagine the England football team could also relate to this.
They’ve faced weeks in the spotlight, having to perform at the top of their game while dealing with constant media coverage and pressure, followed by horrifying abuse for 3 young men who tried their best in the penalties.
Yes, they get paid a lot, but that doesn’t save them from emotional, physical and mental tiredness.
Hopefully, they can have a break, but this was denied to Jesus and the disciples in today’s reading.
As Jesus took his disciples away the crowds followed, desperate to have their needs met.
But whereas the best of us might get grumpy in such a situation, Jesus’s response is compassion.
He sees them as sheep without a shepherd.
Sheep like the ones Keith and I saw in the Lake District don’t really have much to fear, other than the occasional out of control dog or maybe wandering onto the road at the wrong time.
But sheep without a shepherd in Jesus’s time were in real trouble.
They might not be able to find food or water, they were surrounded by dangerous animals, especially at night, and they might become injured or ill with no access to help.
Jesus looked at these people and saw that they were needy and in danger, just like the sheep of his time.
And like sheep, these people couldn’t see beyond their own pressing needs.
A sheep doesn’t care or even understand if a shepherd is tired or sad or ill.
It only knows that it has needs and the shepherd is the person to go to for getting them met.
So, Jesus turns and helps them, not just meeting their immediate needs, although that was important, but also teaching them to see the bigger picture of who he was and what was really important.
It might be tempting in the light of this story to think that to be good Christians we need to always deny our own needs and help others even when we’re worn out.
However, it’s often helpful to look at a passage in the light of the Bible as a whole, as doing this can give us a better perspective.
In this story Jesus is concerned to give his disciples a rest.
There are also plenty of references in the Bible to Jesus going away by himself to rest and recharge, and Jesus himself promises rest to those who come to him, saying in Matthew 11, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”.
We can also look at the story of the prophet Elijah who, when he was worn out and afraid, was given food, water and rest by God, until he was ready to pick himself up and go on.
And, last but not least, one of the first commandments God gives is to rest one day a week.
I think what our Gospel story does is remind us that there’s more to Jesus’s experience of earthly life than the cross.
We quite rightly focus on Jesus suffering on the cross for our salvation, but we sometimes forget about the fact that he spent 30 years being a human being before that.
He was tired, hungry, thirsty, happy, sad, afraid, hopeful, lonely, frustrated, stressed, too hot or too cold.
God came to earth to be one of us, to save us in our actual physical lives, to redeem every part of them by experiencing first-hand what it is to be human.
So, God understands our need for rest, for food, for time for ourselves.
Not only that, he encourages us to meet these needs.
When Jesus tried to take his disciples away, he was recognising and honouring their need for some time out.
It didn’t work out this time, but I think it’s likely that Jesus found another time and place for them all to have some down time.
This is a good time of year for this Gospel reading, as the school year draws to a close and people begin going on summer holidays.
Hopefully, the summer will bring opportunities for all of us to sit back a bit, breathe, and get some rest from all the difficulties of the last 18 months.
And as we do so may we all meet with the God who invites us to come away with him to a quiet place and rest for a while.