In today’s gospel lesson (Mark 6:30-46), Jesus’ disciples return after being sent out to do some hard missionary work. When they return, Jesus says to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.” The gospel writer lets us know that things had gotten so busy that the crowds of people coming and going had not even left the disciples with enough time to eat. Jesus wanted to give them a break. So he took them aside for a little R&R.
Unfortunately, the crowd beat Jesus and his disciples across the lake and was waiting for them when they landed ashore. One thing led to another, the work got out of hand, Jesus got carried away entertaining the people, and anytime that was supposed to be for refreshment became a double-shift. Sometimes that happens.
In this case, of course, the result is one of the most well-known miracles from Jesus’ ministry—the feeding of the 5,000+. Instead of being renewed, Jesus and his disciples enable the multitude to be renewed. Their attention to their own needs was transformed into an opportunity to take care of the needs of others in precisely the same way. Although I’m not suggesting that R&R should be set aside as an opportunity for more work, I do think the framework for this miracle is intentionally set by Mark as a scene in which Jesus and his disciples expected to find refreshment.
Initially, Jesus sought to take the disciples “to a lonely place,” where they could relax, and later in the story the disciples pick up on that same terminology, identifying the spot as “a lonely place” where buying an evening meal would be difficult. I think the disciples themselves had accepted that their intention of rest had been transformed into an opportunity for service. Instead of being fed, they fed others. And so it is from time to time with us.
Unless we take steps to be renewed, we cannot help others be renewed. Many in the helping professions hear that—therapists should be in therapy, physicians need to model good health, etc.. But, since each of us is called to a helping vocation as Christians, perhaps we need to take that adage more seriously. I can’t minister to others unless I’m being ministered to. And, when I take time to be filled by God’s presence, I can more readily fill others. As this gospel lesson shows us, it’s not just a wise saying. It actually happens in tangible ways. We are making space to minister to others when we take time to rejuvenate. Naming that time as Godly time is important.