A Deserted Place, All By Ourselves
Stress is defined as the body’s reaction to events or circumstances which may; excite, frighten, endanger, thrill, be tragic or joyful etc. The body literally prepares itself to fight for, or run for, your life! “Tell us something we don’t know!” you are probably thinking. We are all too familiar with the negative effects of stress in our lives. Everyone is affected differently; different triggers, different types of reactions, different defense mechanisms.
When the apostles got back together with Jesus after their mission of healing and teaching they were wired for sound! They were so excited that they were able to actually heal some people, drive out some demons, and that people actually wanted to hear them speak! It was thrilling to suddenly be in demand, to be popular. They probably felt like they could continue on this track forever, after all, the adrenaline kick to their system was continually being fired by the people crowding around them. They had more energy, could sense the world more keenly, were stronger. What a high!
The other thing that the body does when faced with stressors, whether positive or negative, is to shut down some of the less vital body functions. With limited resources, it can hardly add the extra without taking something away. It shuts down the digestive system until you are safe again; it turns off the immune system. If you might die (what the body assumes when stressed) what difference will it make if you digested your lunch or catch a cold? When we deal with one stressor after another over a period of time our body will suffer, the heightened alert state can only go on for so long before a crash!
Jesus knew that the apostles were headed for a crash if they didn’t get a rest, some mental and physical down time, a chance to eat and digest a meal, to sleep a bit. When they were alone together he often took the chance to teach them and explain some of his parables to them more clearly. All of this would enrich their ministry and enable them to continue. He was concerned for their wellbeing even when they weren’t aware of any risk.
There is so much in this one set of bookend stories today about which I could speak. I say bookends because, as I’m sure you noticed, they are the stories immediately before and after the great stories of the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water. In fact several sources I looked at suggested ignoring the fact that the lectionary skipped that section of the story and preach about it anyway. The two things I’m going to look at this time are Jesus’ compassion (for his apostles and the crowds) and their faith in his healing power.
Busyness followed them despite their attempt to get some time to themselves. They headed off in boats to find a quiet place away from the crowd and it didn’t work because the crowd found them. The fact that Mark tells us that the crowd got to the isolated location first is used to indicate their great need and the fact that they were now with Jesus in a deserted place rather than out in the public eye where there was risk to his life. It is also important to note that it really shows that they didn’t even have a moment to get settled before being back on-the-job.
I would say that few, if any, of us have crowds of fans following us around and trying to guess where we will be in order to line up for a chance to see us. This is reserved for the Queen, teen heartthrobs and the like. What crowds do we have following us? What busyness presses in on our time apart? We have work, and family, and church, and kid’s activities etc. Our cell phones, our laptops, smart technology all allow us to be available to the world 24/7. We can have real-time online chats with people around the globe, which may well mean in the middle of the night for one of us. We may be in the middle of handling a situation and be interrupted at any moment by someone else’s crisis; one of the kids forgot gym clothes, a telemarketer wanting us to add services on our phones, a friend in trouble. Neither the original situation, nor the new one gets the focused attention we may want to give. So long as we have these items with us and turned on, they will beat us to our quiet time. We may be in a deserted place, but not alone. The world is there with us, just like the crowds who managed to found Jesus and his apostles in the deserted place.
I expect you may remember, from other posts, me mentioning my friend The Rev. Charles Deogratias, a Presbyterian chaplain with the Canadian Forces. Charles and his wife Hyasinter grew up in a refugee camp after their families had fled the genocide in Rwanda. They live in Canada now but have never lost touch with their own country, their own people. As Charles gets nearer to retirement they have started a project called The Heartprints Community Center. They have purchased a piece of land in Rwanda and are raising funds to build and operate a community center on the property. The concept is really interesting. Aware of the great potential and desire to learn and improve in Rwanda, and the wealth of knowledge and experience here in Canada which, especially after retirement, often goes untapped; the plan is to have the Rwandese government to identify the expertise they need for their projects and for the center to assist with finding the people. Volunteers would be cared for there at the center, with meals and accommodations etc. and each day they would be picked up and taken to where their help is needed. This is different from a typical mission trip where people from here try to identify a specific project or need and go into an area to carry out the short or long term work. Just as Jesus showed the apostles, one thing that Charles agrees will be very important is that at the end of the work term (3 weeks, 6 months or whatever a person is able to give) volunteers will have a break and a chance to enjoy the country, to go on a safari, to rest from the needs of others and care for their own needs.
After their unsuccessful attempt to get away on their own Jesus sent the apostles to go ahead of him to Bethsaida, a community on the North Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The next thing today’s story tells us is that they were barely out of the boat at Ganeseret before people recognized them and were begging to touch Jesus’ cloak fringe for healing. Did you catch that? What were they doing in Ganeseret, North Western shore, when they were headed to Bethsaida? Whether due to confusion during the storm(see the story of Jesus walking on water), a lack of confidence on the part of the disciples, or coincidence they did not arrive where they had headed. They were, as it turns out, in the wrong place – at the right time!
People were begging to touch even a fringe, bringing sick from all the surrounding area for healing. In contrast to the issue of lack of miracles in his home town, due to lack of faith, here there was great faith that Jesus would heal them. One commentary I read stated that this faith in a touch of Jesus’ coat was nothing more than superstition, after-all these people had never met Jesus, never heard his message of repentance. This is an interesting point, but the people who did know him the best, at home, didn’t believe at all and the apostles, who were now even partners in the teaching and healing, still had doubts. The people in Ganeseret had needs, and they had faith that they would be met through Jesus Christ.
Do you remember the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar? One line in the song Everything’s Alright is sung by Jesus in response to Judas’ outrage at wasting expensive oil which could have been sold and the money given to the poor,
“Surely you’re not saying
We have the resources
To save the poor from their lot?
There will be poor always
Look at the good things you’ve got!”
“There will be poor always,” is a paraphrase of the words of Jesus as recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark, and John; three of the four Gospels. Some might take this as a rather callous statement; it might seem that he is suggesting we just forget about them because we cannot solve the problem of poverty and suffering. We know, however, that it wasn’t meant that way. As the song continues Jesus indicates that they should be taking advantage of the time they have with him, to hear him teach. We are able to see, in stories like today’s, that Jesus had compassion on crowds wherever he went. Up until this set of stories his compassion had been for specific people who were sick but here this compassion is extended to include the whole crowd, a whole flock of lost sheep. He healed them and he taught them even when he had been trying to get a break. But we are not Jesus. Time apart, by ourselves, to be healed and to hear Jesus’ teaching is an important part of our ministry as Christians. There will always be people to help whether we take time to look after ourselves or not, but we will not always be able to help unless we do take that time. Amen.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Tim Rice.