Summary: Jesus Needs a Break! Depictions of Christ suffering on the cross are common in Christian literature and iconography. Few though are the depictions of Jesus walking around..
Our Gospel reading this morning is from Mark chapter 7, where we come across a Jesus who is tired - tired, I think, to the point of exhaustion.
This is not the sort of depiction of Jesus that is given much attention by the church. I’ve never seen a stained-glass window with an image of Jesus trying to sleep. We see Him suffering on the cross, we see Him doing miracles, acting with compassion, preaching, healing, etc., but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an artistic representation of Jesus trying to get away from people so that he can get some rest, and yet it‘s recorded more than once in the Gospels.
I don’t think it’s just an accidental oversight either, that we don‘t give attention to this. I suspect that the church historically has not wanted to acknowledge the tiredness of Jesus. As early as the second century, people were coming up with stories about Jesus that suggested that he never got tired and never needed to sleep. The same group suggested indeed that he never really ate or drank either, but only pretended to do so lest He scare his disciples!
The Gospel stories though go to some lengths to make clear to us that Jesus both ate and drank, and that He certainly needed rest. Indeed, if you know your New Testament, you know that on at least one occasion He was found to be asleep in the middle of a storm at sea, when everybody really should have been awake! Such stories would suggest that Jesus was capable of sleeping really, really soundly, presumably because He got really, really tired.
In Mark Chapter 7, at any rate, Jesus is tired, and if you read between the lines, you pick up that it is not only that Jesus is suffering the effect of long hours of intense interaction with an enormous number of people. He appears to also be dealing with the fact that his cousin, John the Baptist, has just been executed by that scoundrel King Herod.
Of course we can’t get inside the head of Jesus to know how this really affected him, but we do know that Jesus loved John. Jesus said of His cousin “no man, born of woman, was greater than John!” Yet Herod, you will remember, had presented the head of John the Baptist to his daughter-in-law as a dinner gift.
We know that Jesus loved John, and we know that when Jesus heard about John‘s death, He said to His disciples, “Come away by yourselves, to a lonely place, and rest a while” (6:31). Evidently it affected Him deeply.
If you’ve been following the story through Mark’s Gospel though, you’ll know that Jesus’ attempt to find a lonely place on that occasion was frustrated by a large crowd that managed to beat him to the remote location that He was heading for. Even though Jesus deliberately got into a boat in order to get away from the crowd, that crowd accurately guessed where Jesus was going, and was waiting for him there when he got there!
That story was in Chapter 6, and Jesus, we are told, had compassion on those people. He worked with them, He taught them, and He fed them!
And then He made a second attempt to get away from them - even to get away from His disciples this time - sending them off in the boat while He Himself went ‘into the hills’ to pray. But it was the distress of His disciples on that occasion - who were having another calamity at sea - that forced Jesus to postpone that time-out.
And so we come across Jesus in our Gospel reading today, making a third attempt to try to get some rest for Himself. And we’re told that He heads off into the region of Tyre and Sidon - part of the region of Southern Lebanon, if we go by today’s map.
Then as now, Southern Lebanon would not have been a popular vacation spot for well-to-do Jews. It’s point of attraction could only have been that it was remote and that it was the sort of place where no self-respecting Jew would follow Him. And yet a local woman finds him, and asks Him to heal her daughter. But Jesus tells her to go away. Indeed, he tells her to go away in rather strong terms, apparently referring to her as a dog!
Now I don’t want to dwell too long on that detail today. Some preachers see it as their role to sort of apologise for the way Jesus treats this woman or, at least to explain Jesus’ words in a way that makes them seem less offensive. I’m conscious of the fact that the Gospel writer didn’t see any need to do that.