As an introvert, I understand and appreciate this directive of Jesus. “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
I like nothing better than to get away from bustling, crowded places. My idea of relaxation is to have a leisurely lunch in quiet place, read a book, listen to a podcast or just take in the scenery.
I know that is not a universal love.
For many who are extroverted in their nature, the thought of sitting quietly in a deserted place is excruciating!
They much prefer the “many were coming and going” part of this story. They want a restaurant with a lively “buzz” of conversation, music, the clang of the kitchen and find it all stimulating and energizing. They relish the interchange of ideas, the people watching, and all of the interactions going on.
That exhausts me!
So, as I read this gospel, I find particular comfort in seeing Jesus recognize both of these often divergent needs.
It is Jesus who encourages interaction in the first place. He sends his disciples out two by two, instructing them to mix and to mingle in the towns and countryside around Galilee.
The disciples become “apostles” or the “sent ones.”
In the sending out they learn to trust in God’s provision, how to assess those whom they meet, and discern where they can best offer healing and peace as they talk about the Kingdom of God.
We are told in the opening of today’s Gospel that as the disciples return from that busy work of proclaiming the Kingdom, clearly, they are stoked! They launch into telling Jesus all about what that they have “done and taught.”
If the Gospel were just a matter of getting busy and getting the work done, I suppose Jesus would have only called such extroverts who could have moved endlessly from interaction to interaction like heaven sent “fuller brush sales-persons.” Each vigorous interaction would have propelled such disciples on to the next, more energized by each passing contact. This gospel story would have highlighted the next big move or the journey expanding, the ever-widening circles of the disciples influence and impact on this world.
Clearly “they” (meaning both Jesus and his disciples) are now recognized and gaining notoriety, for Mark tells us as much.
Momentum is building!
Which is why it is important to note that Jesus intentionally shifts from the extroverts excited to share what they have done to caring for the needs of any introverts in the group.
Instead of building on the wave of energy and pushing forward on the momentum built, Jesus gives those who need it opportunity to retreat and to reflect, and in fact, imposes that even on the energized ones.
In doing so, Jesus is modeling that both actions are important, necessary, and affirmed.
Which do you find yourself more drawn to as a disciple?
Are you the “let me tell you what we’ve been doing” kind of disciple? The “let’s get out there and make it happen” kind of disciple? Do you find doing the work of the Kingdom energizing and get frustrated that you aren’t accomplishing more, doing more, involved in this or that endeavor?
Surely this Gospel reminds us that the need is never ending!
We hear that people are running ahead of them as they row the boat to get to where Jesus is going.
People are bringing those in desperate need out just to touch the hem of his garment.
There is no end to the need or the demands of Kingdom work, that much is certain!
Or are you the “let me take a moment to rest” kind of disciple? The one who needs some time away to recover, to find the inner peace and refreshment that comes from stepping back for a bit. Do you need some time to assess where we are right now, how best to proceed into the future since the needs are many and the laborers indeed seem limited?
I think it is important for us all to wrestle with those two often divergent needs from time to time because this world in which we live does not model any kind of balance between those two at all!
We tend to value action over reflection.
In the United States, the average person will take only 54% of the time that is allotted to them for vacation. The remainder will go unused.
Many who take their vacation will report feeling guilt over taking time off, either because of the importance of their job, or the burden they feel they are placing on co-workers or the company by their absence.
Many more will also report feeling tired after their vacation because they tend to pack it with activity. They travel on a tight schedule. They make family and friend contacts. They take in shows, nightlife, and sightseeing. People run themselves ragged trying to “get it all in” while they are there or while they can.
As a society, we just don’t do “come away to a deserted place” very well.
This point was driven home to me on a high school youth mission trip about a decade ago.
The ELCA has a Navajo Lutheran Mission in Rock Point, Arizona. This was never a residential school. It had some housing for families, but it mostly focused on teaching, health and social service work on the Navajo Nation near Canyon de Chelly.
As a church we had planned to go down, take in a few sights in the southwest and then serve the community there.
In a previous trip, under a previous director for the mission, we had scrubbed and polished, painted and cleaned, helped out with a VBS program and busied ourselves serving in the distribution of food from their pantry.
This time however, under a new director, we did none of that.
He welcomed us. He invited us into our arranged lodging on the campus and sat with us. He talked a little about the work they did amongst the Navajo, the “Dine’”, which translates “human beings” but when we asked how we could help, he abruptly shifted gears.
“You have planned an awesome mission trip,” He said. “While you are here, you will rest with us.”
He had no projects for us to do.
He simply sat and talked with us about all that he, all that we, were learning from the Navajo.
“This is the mission.” He said. “God is already here and we are just now listening to how God has always been here. We are learning in what ways God has made the Dine’ God’s people. We are learning the wisdom of being in the lonely place, the deserted place. That is your mission here. God has much to teach us here. We become better followers of Christ as we learn to become Dine’,– human beings.”
For two days, we sat and watched the wilderness. We greeted the sunrise, felt the Sun’s power in the midday and watched it set behind the butte in an explosion of oranges, reds and deep purples at night.
We saw stars and the milky way in the skies that were not dimmed by city lights.
We hiked the desert. We marveled at all the life that we found there. All the life that would never been seen had we not slowed down enough to pay attention to it.
Flowers on the cactus, insects and reptiles scurrying under bushes and between the rocks We saw the beauty that was this place.
We talked deeply, listened well, and experienced “Navajo Time”… the doing of things when the time was right to do them instead of being driven by clock and a schedule.
On the third day as we packed to leave, the director came and thanked us for our “work.” “You have done awesome things here by living in our midst and honoring the ways of the Dine’.” He said.
As we drove away, we talked together about the experience.
“What did we really do there?” one young man asked.
And from the back of the van came the response from a young woman, who thoughtfully said, “We changed….”
We spent the rest of the van ride that day talking about all the ways in which we had been changed by the experience.
In the Gospels there are several places where Jesus turns to his disciples asks them a question.
“Who do people say that I am?”
“What were you talking about along the road?”
Jesus speaks to the disciples in parables and does things that are not the norm for how the world usually works.
As the Gospel stories unfold, we witness the change that comes upon those whom he talks to and touches.
Here is the thing.
When you are plunging head long into the work that must be done, you usually aren’t thinking about much else besides the task at hand.
Jesus, however, models something quite different for his disciples, for us.
He wants us to think.
He wants us to process what it is that we have just seen, heard, and experienced.
Jesus encourages his disciples to step away from the busy work to have a leisurely meal and to consider what has been said, what has been done, and what they have seen.
Jesus pulls them back from the headlong rush into doing so that they can ask good questions and to gain new perspectives and insights into this Kingdom that he comes to proclaim.
That too, is work!
That too, is your mission!
Jesus wants to you to be opened to change! The Kingdom he proclaims and invites you into is a different kind of Kingdom from the one you are currently living in!
That is going to take some time to process!
So, I ask you again, what kind of a Discipleship do you find yourself naturally drawn to being?
Is it the “Let’s get going!” kind? If so, Jesus will likely make you slow down and ponder.
Is it the “Just let me think about that..” variety? Well, If so, then don’t be surprised if you find him pushing out to interact with others, to step into their homes and live where they live to find out what the Kingdom would be like in their place, their situation, and their shoes.
Both are affirmed by Jesus.
Both are needed, for you will not change if all you are doing is rushing to and fro!
Just as, you will not get anything done to change this world if all you do is sit and think about it.
What is the invitation you hear from Jesus this day?
Which one scares you most?
Which one appeals to you most?
Which one do you most need to develop? Come away and consider, the call of Jesus on you.