Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel
by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, July 19, 2009:First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
First Reading (Semi-cont.): 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm: Psalm 23
Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 89:20-37
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:11-22
Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Whenever I see a chunk of text missing from the lectionary selection, I go back to read the whole thing. I understand that most church services don't lend themselves to such long Gospel readings from the pulpit, but in the privacy of my study, it doesn't take much time.
The missing text is the feeding of the crowd with loaves and fish, a story we'll return to in a few weeks.
In the meantime, let's consider the actions of Jesus in this Gospel. First of all, Jesus retreats. He invites his disciples, home from their evangelical journeys, to come away to a lonely place. Or at least, that's their plan. They end up with a crowd to feed, and Jesus teaches and feeds them.
In the middle of the omitted portion, Jesus once again withdraws to pray. His disciples try to make their way in the boat without him, but a storm overtakes them. Jesus walks to them across the water, calms the disciples, calms the storm, and leaves the disciples freaked out: he multiplies food, he calms the waters--who is this guy???
And then, once again, it's back to the mission: healing and making people well.
This Gospel has lessons for us. One of the most important lessons that it has for busy 21st century people is that even Jesus needs some down time. Jesus routinely goes on retreat. Jesus routinely withdraws to pray.
I hear the howls of protest even now. "Jesus wasn't a parent. He didn't have all these activities that his children had to get to--and who is going to drive them there? Me, that's who. And don't tell me that they don't have to do so many activities, because that just shows that you don't know how tough it is for kids to get into a good school." "Jesus didn't have this jerk of a boss who times his bathroom breaks. It was easy for him to take a time out to pray." "Jesus didn't have a house that was falling apart." On and on we could go, offering excuses for why we allow ourselves to get into a frazzled state.
But the ministry of Jesus has much to teach us, and one of the most important lessons is that we can't take care of others when we're not taking care of ourselves. Jesus prays, Jesus takes retreats, Jesus shares meals with friends--these are the activities that leave him ready to care for the masses.
Our mission is the same as Christ's. Like Jesus, we're surrounded by hordes of hungry people. Broken people need us (and perhaps you feel pursued by them).
Yet we will not be able to complete our mission if we don't practice basic self-care. The message of today's Gospel is that it's O.K. to take time to pray. It's O.K. to retreat. It's O.K. to eat a slow meal with friends.
Not only is it O.K., it's essential. Christ, the incarnation of God on earth, needed to take a break. What makes you think that you are any different?