Summary: Jesus said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat! (Mark 6:31)
We’re in Mark chapter 6 this morning, dealing with a long and rather spectacular reading, where we see Jesus heal the sick, feed 5,000 hungry people with only a few loaves and fish, walk on the water, and preach to the lost - all in a day’s work, or so it seems!
I’ve had days like that (indeed, I’ve had a few this week) and so have you - not as spectacular, of course, but just as full. We’ve all been there, I think - certainly all the parents amongst us - where the entirety of our day, from dawn to dusk, is jam-packed with teaching, preaching, shepherding the lost, bandaging the wounded, and trying to perform the odd feeding miracle.
And of course I’m not really wanting to pretend that we perform miracles on the scale that Jesus did, any more than we are able to teach and lead with the authority that Jesus had, but there is one thing that we do share in common with Jesus in the work of feeding and caring for our respective flocks, and that is that we are all capable of getting exhausted in the process!
Jesus, by the end of the day that we read of in Mark chapter 6, was exhausted, and as the curtain closes on that day, it draws back on a scene of pandemonium, where Jesus is being swamped by people needing his touch.
"They ran all over the countryside", we are told, "and began carrying the sick on their cots to any place where they heard he was" (Mark 6:55). Jesus, it seems, found no peace that night. And if we wind back the clock to the beginning of the day we find that He actually began the day exhausted.
Our passage began with Jesus saying to His disciples, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For, we were told, so many were coming and going that they "had no leisure even to eat" (6:30-31).
Now it’s sandwiched in between those two scenes of chaos - with Jesus and His disciples being swamped with well-meaning but needy people - that we find Jesus and his team making a series of attempts to get some solitude, all of which fail.
And you get the impression that, with Jesus, His need for a break was due to more than just normal physical exhaustion, as h the day appears to begin with Him receiving the news of the death of His cousin, John the Baptist.
Now we don’t know for sure that Jesus only found out about John’s death that day, and we don’t know exactly how heavily it weighed on him, but we do know that Jesus loved John, as we do know that Jesus spoke highly of John, claiming indeed that ’no man born of woman was greater than John’! (Matthew 11:11), as we do know that after this news of the death of John, Jesus made a whole series of attempts to get away by Himself to pray. This attempt at the beginning of our passage today in Mark chapter 6 is the first of those attempts.
Was Jesus simply grieving the loss of His beloved friend, or was there more to it than that? Was He trying to get over the anger He must have felt towards Herod - the only man (so far as we know) that Jesus ever blatantly refused to speak to? Or was there more to it again? Could it have been that Jesus saw in the death of John the writing on the wall for Himself? Did He see His own impending martyrdom in John’s martyrdom, and was it this that was forcing Him to try to take time out to reflect and pray?
In truth, we cannot enter in to the self-consciousness of Jesus. We do not know exactly what was in His mind at this stage, yet we know that He was tired, and we know that he was seeking a place of solitude, and we know too that He did not find it for, we are told:
"many saw [Jesus and His disciples] going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them" and that "As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd" And not only does Jesus teach this crowd, we are told, but He feeds this crowd as well!
It was the disciples this time who try to get away from the crowd, pleading with Jesus that He might dismiss them and send them home for dinner, but now Jesus pushes them to take on the problem themselves and feed the crowd themselves, and this despite the fact that he knew that His disciples were exhausted and needed rest!