16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 19th July 2015

"Come and rest a while"

Scripture Reading – Mark 6:30-34

The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. Then he said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’; for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. So they went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But people saw them going, and many could guess where; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.


By Rosemary O’Connor and Patrick Sullivan

This Sunday, we hear in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus met with his apostles and heard about all the work they had been doing. Jesus recognised that they had been working long hours without any break, they were tired from the busyness of the demands being placed on them; they didn’t even have time to sit and eat. He says to them “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”.

This invitation is extended to all of us; we too are in need of rest. We need to be able to leave aside the busyness of our lives and rest a while. We live in an ‘always on’ society – our mobile phones and communications tools like Facebook and Twitter mean that we are in contact and contactable at all times. This has its benefits; however the other side of it is that it can be difficult to switch off from the busyness of life when we are constantly available to others.

The invitation that Jesus is giving us, is to come away to a deserted place; this is not a desolate place but one without the busyness – one without the distractions, the phone calls, and the meetings. We have all had the experience of rushing from one commitment to another, of trying to squeeze as much as possible into one day. We are invited to look at where we can take time in our busy lives to be nourished; to have some spiritual rest; to take time to pray, to sit and just be with Jesus, without feeling the need to constantly do.

In Mark’s Gospel we hear that the people saw Jesus and the apostles leaving in the boat and followed them on foot to arrive before them; we hear that Jesus was moved by the needs of the people and he responded to them compassionately. Jesus recognised that the apostles needed to rest before they could face the needy crowds. There is a clear message that self-care is important to God’s good news; taking time out to rest helps us to reach out and respond compassionately to people’s needs.

So where is our rest? Where is our deserted place? We all know how overwhelming it can be at times to have to meet the demands of our family, our friends, our work colleagues, our communities. We all know the feeling of being stressed and under time pressure. Stress is a normal part of life; it is the natural way our being has evolved to deal with stimuli and different situations. We develop skills in juggling to balance all our commitments. To be able to continue to do this effectively we need to be able to manage the stresses in our lives.

There is a story told of a psychologist who was teaching a group about stress management. As she walked around a room she raised a glass of water; everyone expected they’d be asked the ‘is the glass half empty or half full’ question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: ‘How heavy is this glass of water?’
Answers called out ranged from 20g to 500g.

She replied: ‘The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralysed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.’

She continued: ‘The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralysed – incapable of doing anything.’

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. Remember to put the glass down!

Jesus’s message today is; ‘come and sit with me and rest for a while’; we can put our glass down and let Jesus hold it for us. That is his promise to us.


On returning from their mission, the Twelve found Jesus concerned more about their taking a rest than about the results of their activity.  However, for anyone following the Master, rest becomes impossible. The crowd that comes in search of him causes him to feel pity for them, and he begins to minster to those people who were without a shepherd. Resting with him may be the recompense of the missionary disciple, but the first lesson they have to learn is the compassion of Jesus when faced with the needs of his people. Jesus will not allow himself to be taken over completely by his own followers when there are people out there in need of a shepherd. This is a lesson often forgotten by Christ’s apostles – when there are people searching for Jesus, there is no time for even a well-deserved rest.


I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

This episode is in two parts: the return of the apostles (Mk 6, 30-32), and the teaching of Jesus (Mk 6, 33-44). No specific location is given for the first part. It serves as an introduction to Jesus’ meeting with the crowd, and also as a logical conclusion to the mission of the apostles (Mk 6, 6b-13).

The apostles, who had been sent out by Jesus, return. Nothing is said about the place where they had been sent, about the results of their mission, nor its duration. The fact is that Jesus gathers around him again (Mk 3, 14) the apostles until recently engaged in their mandate. They had acted and taught in his name and now they give an account of all they had done (Mk 6, 30), since they had received their mission and power from him. (Mk 3, 15; 6, 7).

Jesus reacts by suggesting to them that they withdraw, alone with him, to a place apart (Mk 6,31a).  After the fatigue of the mission he invites them to rest. This was what Jesus himself did (cf. Mk 1, 35), and he wants his followers to do the same.

Jesus shields his apostles from the people they were sent to (cf. Mk 3, 20), by offering them a period of recollection and serenity. They have come back to give an account to the one who sent them, and they are looking forward to a time of intimacy with him. They worked hard in his name, bringing the Kingdom to all the people, and now they can join the circle of those close to him. Representing Jesus in preaching the Kingdom is the way to gain admittance to his exclusive company. At the end of his mission, the apostle knows that he can count on the Lord for a period of rest.

The arrival of a crowd of people, with all that that implies, prevents them from getting their rest (Mk 6,31b). This detail serves to emphasize the determination of the people to meet Jesus. His apostles were besieged by the people to whom they were ministering, as he himself had been earlier (Mk 3, 20; 1, 35). The people come looking for the apostles and they make it impossible for them to enjoy their hard-earned rest. Jesus insists, however, on bringing the disciples with him to a secluded place, far away from the crowd. He decides to go by boat (Mk 6, 32). The lake would make it difficult for the crowd to follow them.

Still, the crowd would not be deprived, and as proof of their determination, they went after them by land and got there before them. They were joined by people from all the towns around the lake which, naturally, the people going in search of Jesus had to pass through (Mk 6, 33). By now there was a large crowd looking for Jesus, even against his will. And this crowd would not allow him to rest, nor would they allow themselves to be ignored. On getting out of the boat, Jesus found himself with a large crowd waiting for him, with needs that could not wait (Mk 6, 34). The sight of the crowd caused Jesus to have compassion on them.  The point here is to underline not so much the kind sentiments of Jesus, as his personal mission. The crowd’s needs move him to compassion – a compassion that reflects the loving care of God for his people.

The image of sheep without a shepherd explains Jesus’ unease. The people of God has come to the stage where they are a flock without shepherds (cf. Num 27, 17; 1 Kings 22,17; Ezechiel 34,5-6). And Jesus, with what he will do later, will become the guide of those who are in need of one.  It is important to note that, before he gives them bread, he offers them his word. He becomes their shepherd, especially by being their teacher.  The concern of Jesus the teacher for his flock is a messianic characteristic. It reveals the concern of God, the supreme Shepherd, for his people. It is a passion shared with God and for this reason, his compassion transforms Jesus into shepherd and messiah. The people of God receive a compassionate leader first, then teaching and then bread. And furthermore, what they receive from him – a lengthy instruction first and then a small amount of food – are the fruit of his mercy.

II. Meditate:  apply what the text says to life

The first apostles must have felt flattered. Jesus welcomed them on their return from preaching the kingdom of God with an invitation to rest with him in some lonely place. They were happy with their first experience. They marvelled at the result of the mission they had carried out in Jesus’ name and with his authority. Certainly, they had many things to talk about among themselves and to report to their Master. Jesus, however, did not seem to have time for this. He was interested, instead, in finding a place for them to rest, a place where the people could not disturb them, a time to eat and to rest together, a few moments of intimacy. Have you ever noticed the number of times the Gospel speaks about Jesus wanting to be alone, to withdraw from the world and from the people, to have time for himself, and time with God his Father? What is special about today’s episode is that, for the first time, he decides to share his peace and solitude with the disciples as they return from their mission of preaching the kingdom of God.

This invitation of Jesus would be extended also to us today, if we were to gather around him, conscious that we have accomplished our mission as disciples of Jesus, to preach the kingdom wherever he sends us.  What better reception could we hope for than to be invited by Jesus himself to rest with him, to witness his solitude, join him in prayer and share in his intimacy?  All we have to do to merit such an invitation and such trust, is to preach in his name and with his authority. Normally we go to Jesus with all our worries, hoping to receive from him a solution to our problems or one more gift in answer to our needs.  We feel disappointed if he does not meet our expectations. We forget that, since we have not been fully occupied in the task for which he sent us into the world, namely to preach the Gospel, then Jesus does not take into consideration our needs. If we are not committed to the Gospel, we do not deserve his attention.

The disciple who does not take care of the mission entrusted to him, cannot hope that the Master will take care of him. Jesus’ care and attention were given to the disciples as they returned from preaching the kingdom, having done what he asked of them. Many of our regrets about the way God treats us can lead us, at the end of the day, to discover God’s regrets about us. If we live for the proclamation of the kingdom, we will come to realize that Jesus does everything possible to help us find peace and tranquillity.  The disciples who work for what interests Jesus most, namely God and his Kingdom, will soon feel the attention of Jesus and his concern to find food and rest for them together with him.

If we are concerned about making the kingdom of God known, and if we come back to him worn out from our missionary effort, we will receive his invitation. Together with him we will look for that lonely, peaceful place where we can be alone with him. Is it just a coincidence, in a society where people are always coming and going, as in the time of Jesus, where people seek constant noise just to escape from the loneliness of their lives, that we, the disciples of Jesus, cannot find our true selves and are unable to be sincere with God? Because we cannot accept silence and solitude, we are neither healthy people nor convinced believers.  Silence and contemplation are the path we have to travel to find God, and to be alone with him. Without any doubt, as the saints knew well, anyone who cannot bear prolonged solitude, and the absence of voices and sounds, will not feel the nearness of God, and his soul will find no rest.

This is why many of the disciples of Jesus are still like sheep without a shepherd, arousing compassion, not only in Jesus, but in anyone who sees them. They are like that lost multitude without leaders that Jesus and his disciples saw, after they had rested together. We cannot complain that God does not find time for us, if we do not have time to be alone with him. God is not to blame for our feeling lost – he was not the one who abandoned us to our fate. If we do not give him the opportunity, and if we do not accept the invitation to be alone with him in silence, we cannot blame God. Our lives are filled with so many voices that are not of God, so much noise that is not his Word, and so many needs that have nothing to do with the preaching of the Gospel, that we find it impossible to hear God. If we want God to draw near to us, we will have to make space for him, do some spring-cleaning in our house, give up the things that distract us from God, make ourselves poorer and more open, less sure of ourselves and more in need of him. Silence, which is not just accepted but cultivated, will help us to hear, among the many voices, the one voice that is missing, the voice of God, and to feel his nearness to us in our poverty and his concern for our needs. We often hear people, even good people, who speak of their need for God, but seem to find very little time for him.

They do not realize that by not finding time for him, they are depriving themselves of God and depriving the people of the Kingdom. God has put in our hearts a thirst for affection, and a hunger for tenderness, that only his heart can satisfy. We lose the opportunity to satisfy this deep need, simply because we spend too much time every day trying to satisfy other lesser needs. We need to learn how to waste time with God to allow him to look at us, and see our needs, and be moved to compassion.  Then, as he did with the multitude, he will find time to waste with us, teaching us in peace and calm. Anyone who is able to waste time with God, gains God and his compassion. Could we long for anything better? And it should not prove very difficult. We have to learn to spend time with him, time that we never seem to have, time that we waste on so many things other than God. However, we should resist the temptation to look for immediate gain from the time we spend with God. Time spent with God is not wasted, even if we are not aware of any gain or do not feel any better off as a result.

Let us listen today to the invitation Jesus addresses to his disciples: “Come away yourselves to a lonely place and rest for a while.” If we accept the invitation and follow him, and stay alone with him and for him alone, then we will feel pity and compassion for him, and we will experience his tenderness and his care. He will devote his time to us, he will turn to us and teach us patiently, if we give time to him and overcome our fears, just by the fact of being alone with him. If we really want him to invite us to rest with him, all we have to do is to come back to him, tired from our work of preaching his kingdom.  Let us not forget that Jesus was concerned to find a resting place only for those who were worn out preaching the kingdom. Jesus will continue to take care of us, if we take care of God and his kingdom.


Be gracious, Lord, to us who serve you,
and in your kindness increase your gifts of grace within us:
so that, fervent in faith, hope and love,
we may be ever on the watch
and persevere in doing what you command.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.





Music used in the reflection: “Soulmates” by Lee Rosevere (CC-BY-NC)