Sunday's gospel lesson (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56) is a mess. It starts with Jesus receiving a report from the disciples about what they have accomplished and Jesus inviting them to come away and rest. Then, on their way to a "deserted place," they are spotted by the crowds, who follow them. Then, the lectionary breaks off from the story and jumps ahead to verse 53, in which Jesus and the disciples are described as having finished their trip across the lake and are again met by large crowds who touch the fringe of Jesus' cloak in order to be healed. That's no so bad until you stop and read what we've missed.
After that first boat journey, Jesus and the disciples come to a "deserted place," which is to say a place without a name, an unincorporated spot along the sea. But the crowd, which saw them, met them there. Presumably Jesus ministered to them until it got late, when Jesus' disciples urge him to send the crowd away because they need something to eat. After a brief exchange with the disciples and the procurement of five loaves and two fish, Jesus miraculously feeds the 5,000+.
Then, Jesus sends the disciples across the sea to Bethsaida, staying behind for some time for his own rest and recovery. But, in the middle of the night, a storm arises, and the disciples struggle on the water, so Jesus walks out to them. There's the dramatic response by the disciples, who think it must be a ghost, and Jesus' words of reassurance--"Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid"--and then the stilling of the storm. When that episode is over, we pick back up in the lectionary with the arrival of the crew in Gennesaret, where Jesus is rushed by the crowd and worked hard all over again.
Skip the feeding of the 5,000? Omit the walking on the water and the stilling of the storm? Why the strange lectionary pattern? Good question. Next Sunday (July 29), we will have the story of the feeding of the 5,000, but we'll read John's version. There is no walking on water or stilling of the storm. The two encounters of Jesus and the crowd in this Sunday's reading are usually separated by some major miracles, but the lectionary wants to strip those away and leave us with the struggle for rest. What may have been a minor point in Marks' gospel account becomes for us a big deal: we must seek out rest.
Steve Pankey wrote a piece this morning on the struggle for sabbath, and it's a great, personal account of the collision of worldly and godly priorities that I encourage you to read. Even if we don't own a grocery store, we face that struggle in our own lives. Rest is, by definition, unproductive--at least in measurable ways. To pursue rest, we must sacrifice profits, accomplishments, returns, progress. There's a positive side of that trade-off, however. I don't know how Chick-fil-A measures the lost revenue from being closed on Sunday against the added benefit of being an ostensibly Christian company, but I'm sure it's more than a religious calculation. Still, in the last month, my family and I have wanted Chick-fil-A on Sunday twice, so I know they're giving up something. What about us?
As a clergy person, whose job is never-ending, whose calling is to respond to the never-ending needs of others, I have a hard time putting those demands aside for self-care. In my mind, I know it's important. I know that taking care of myself is a critical way for me to do a better job of taking care of others, but it's not easy to play golf while someone is in the hospital, to spend a day with my family while a stewardship program is on hold, to go for a run while a sermon still needs to be written. You have that struggle in your own world. It's real. And the need for sabbath is real. Jesus himself seems to struggle with it, which confirms for us that it's not easy. This week, the lectionary takes some time away from the story to teach us something outside the narrative. It's also my one week of unprogrammed transition from St. John's to St. Paul's. If I can just get all the things on my to do list finished, I'll have time to sit and think about it.