Jesus has compassion on the crowd

Mark 6:30-34

Every so often a commercial, with a catchy jingle or slogan comes along that is especially effective in staying in your brain. How many of us immediately think of a particular brand of chocolate bar when we hear the words ‘Have a break’?  In a commercial sense the words are simple and memorable.  It invites us to enjoy a snack or to take a break. Go on, you deserve it!

Today’s Gospel also speaks about a break!  Jesus had sent his twelve disciples out, two by two, to proclaim God’s word, to preach repentance, and heal the sick.  On their return they reported to Jesus all that they had done and taught.  To escape the demands of the crowds pressing on them, Jesus said ‘come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ – you see they all needed a break.  As we read on, the story says that their break with their Lord was short lived. Even their brief boat ride across Lake Galilee was not relaxing as they encountered wave and wind and as they approached the shore on the other side of the lake, tired and hungry from weeks of ministry, they encountered a large crowd coming toward them – like sheep without a shepherd!

How do we cope when tired and worn out, frazzled and fatigued?  There’s no doubt about it, we live in a busy world!  With all the time saving devices we have in our homes and work places, one would think that we would have so much time to do the things we like to do, to spend more time with our families, volunteer more of our time to charity and the church!

Most of our comments about time relate to the speed with which time is passing. We look at our watches and say “goodness, just look at the time” or “my, how time flies”.  We are already in the second half of the year.  Next thing you know we’ll be getting ready for Christmas.  Time is something we wrestle with every day.  Our lives are packed so full that the day is finished before we have accomplished half of what we want to do!  Yet, if there was ever a busy bloke it was Jesus.  There was a constant flow of people wanting to see him, to hear him, to have him heal their sick, and to test out his theology!  For the disciples it wasn’t any different – so Jesus said, ‘let’s have some time out and get some rest.’

We know ‘time out’ is a good strategy in sport (for example, basketball) when the game needs to be slowed down and weary players need a short break.  When advice from the coach is needed to give the team the winning edge!  When a player needs encouragement and support!  When the opponents are getting the upper hand.  A call for time out is what is needed!

Time out is also a wise principle in everyday living.  We need to take time out and slow down from our busy lives.  We need to take time out to listen to advice from our coach – Jesus.  We need to hear our coach’s encouragement, his words of support when our opponents – the devil and the world and our own selfish desires – are getting the upper hand.  We need to take time out to reassess where we are going, what have we done wrong, and how we can do things a different way!  We know all this – but more often we struggle on and we don’t take a break when we should!  In fact, we may even feel guilty when we do stop for a while and have a bit of quiet time.  Jesus didn’t feel guilty about taking time out!  He didn’t make his disciples feel guilty either.  They were human, so was He.

They had a hectic life and there was a sense of urgency to get as much done as possible in the short time Jesus had in the world!  Jesus had no qualms about having a bit of time away from the pressures that had been placed on him by others.

He has a concern also for his disciples after all they had just finished a strenuous mission.  Yes, he says ‘let’s get away for a while’.  All of us have days where we need that kind of invitation!  Just as Jesus needed to get away for a while, so do we.  But what has happened to the time out that God planned for us?   Not only do we fill in every moment of the working week doing our job, but we’re also driving someone here, dropping someone off there, meeting someone else, and we do that on God’s day as well!  God said, as a general principle, one day out of seven is set aside for God.  It’s also a day of rest!

We need to take time out and lay our whole lives at the feet of Jesus, our Lord! You can’t serve God if your body is fatigued, your nerves are frayed, you’re cantankerous and grumpy, and you shout at everyone who disagrees with you! You are just worn out because everything and everyone is getting at you or so you think.  You feel like doing anything but praising God!

Both body and mind need a rest for a while!  Every year, pastors and lay workers (who should know better) have to resign their call or go on stress leave because they’ve neglected their own need for rest. Burnout is real, so take time out to spend it with the God who loves you.  He made you, saved you, brought you into his family through baptism, and gave you saving faith.  He has given you everything and wants you to continue to bring before him your every daily need.

Instead of burnout, we need the spirit of God to burn this truth into our hearts once again.  The most important work we have to do is the work we must do on our knees.  Yes, on our knees, alone with God in prayer, away from the racket of the world and the din of people’s voices!

That’s probably what Jesus had in mind when he said to the disciples, ‘let’s go to a quiet place and get some rest’.  When they arrived at what was to be a quiet place, Jesus looked out and saw a whole flock of shepherdless sheep coming his way and we hear that the good shepherd Jesus had compassion on them – much more than any ordinary shepherd would, for he could not allow those sheep to live lives of unforgiven sin!

For what do sheep do when they have no shepherd?  They wander around looking for fresh water and green pastures and they are vulnerable to attack by predators.  Wandering sheep need the care of a shepherd! And we know Jesus is that shepherd.

When He saw the crowd of people, he began to teach them! Yes, that is how the good shepherd ultimately cares for his sheep, by feeding them his Word! Before he filled their stomachs with a boy’s lunch of two fish and five barley loaves, he took care of more pressing needs.  He sat those 5,000 shepherdless sheep down and taught them many things! Jesus feeds sheep through their ears because it is often their minds and their hearts that are empty.  And when Jesus feeds sheep, he does not provide them just a taste or a mere snack, but He fills them till they’re full of His Grace, His Mercy and His Goodness!

Today, Jesus invites us to a quiet place away from the maddening crowd and all the demands of our lives to be in his presence, to experience the Holy Spirit who comforts us, for healing, for renewal, and to hear His words of love, peace and joy and direction for our lives. Jesus greets us as he did with the large crowds mentioned in the story as lost sheep.  He greets us with compassion, and forgiveness.

Our shepherd is here – in the bread and wine and as we hear in his word that he claims you as his own.  The time for wandering is over! Jesus is here in word and sacrament to lead us through life.  Let this word from God today be a catalyst to get you thinking where life is taking you!

You deserve a break.  Have a chit-chat with your saviour Jesus and be refreshed by one who loves you!