More to give – guidelines for modern living

Pentecost 8

Mark 6:31-34, 53-56

Marian Free


In the name of God who is the source of our strength and hope. Amen.

Whether it is caring for a baby, an elderly relative or disabled friend, many of us know the stresses and strains of being responsible for someone who is totally dependent on us. We know what it is like to fall into bed utterly worn out, only to be woken shortly after by a plaintiff cry, a shrill squeal or a grumpy moan. No matter how tired we are, we manage to drag ourselves out of bed and dig deep into our reserves to provide the love and care that is required. There are times though when we reach our limits, when we are so fatigued and physically and emotionally drained that we have little or nothing to give. If at those times we do not find a way to take a break we can end up not only by doing harm to ourselves but also to the person/child for whom we care.

Today those responsible for the care of the aged or those with a disability have access to some form of respite care. The government and society in general recognises that without extended families to share the role of caring, the burden often falls on just one person – sometimes someone who is as aged and frail as the person to whom the care is being offered.

In a world without psychologists and social workers, Jesus seems to have recognised how important it is to take time out to recharge the batteries, to seek spiritual, emotional and physical refreshment and to gather strength to meet the demands made upon those who care for others.

Today’s gospel consists of two fragments; so let me fill you in on the full story. Not long before today’s scenario, Jesus has sent the twelve out on their first mission. They have returned, filled with excitement and bursting to share with him everything that they have done and taught, but such is their renown that they are no longer getting a moment to themselves, not even time to eat – let alone process their new role and responsibilities and the demands that will be made on them as a result. Meanwhile, during the disciples’ absence, Jesus has heard about the death of John the Baptist – someone whom he admired and may even have followed for a while. Apart from the grief of losing a friend, Jesus bears a double burden in that he will have been forcefully reminded that the consequence of saying and doing uncomfortable things may be a violent and untimely death.

All of them, Jesus and the disciples, need some time out to think about what has been happened, to consider how their lives have changed by becoming representatives of the possibility that their discipleship might lead to death. At the same time, if they are to keep on giving of themselves to the many who seek their help they need some time to rebuild their reserves before leaping back into the fray. Jesus recognises this need and suggests that they go to a deserted place by themselves. Rest it turns out is impossible. People who are seeking their teaching and healing notice the direction in which the boat is heading and run ahead to meet them there.

Like the 88-year-old wife who gets up at 3:00am and uncomplainingly changes the sheets that her husband has unconsciously soiled, Jesus puts the needs of the crowd before his own need for rest. It is obvious to him that the people are desperate for leadership, for healing and for teaching – they are like “sheep without a shepherd”. Just as it is impossible for most parents to ignore a crying child, so it is not in Jesus nature to turn away those who need him. He has “compassion” for the crowd and not only heals and teaches, but manages to feed all five thousand with just five loaves and two small fish.

At last, having met the needs of those who came out to him, Jesus dismisses the crowd and sends the disciples ahead of him to Bethsaida while he himself, makes the most of the opportunity and goes up the mountain to pray. Whether because of the storm, or more likely because Mark has no real interest in geography, Jesus and the disciples land at Gennesaret on the opposite side of the lake. As we have heard, they were immediately recognised and people from all around brought those who were sick to be healed.

We all know the expression: “Stop to smell the roses” and our print media is always providing advice as to how to achieve a “work/life balance”. Not surprisingly, Jesus was there long before us. The gospels are not simply the story of Jesus, a partially historical record locked in time. The gospels provide help and guidelines for modern living – even for life in the twenty-first century. Spiritually, emotionally and physically none of us can keep on going without a rest. If we are to be of use to others spiritually, emotionally or physically we need to ensure that our own reserves are well stocked up. If our prayer lives are barren and empty, we have nothing to offer those who are looking for spiritual sustenance. If we are emotionally drained, we will have nothing to draw on when others come to us seeking love and care. If we are physically spent, we cannot offer support to those who need it. For all those reasons, it is essential that we build into our own lives times for contemplation and reflection, moments that feed our hearts and our souls and times of rest to allow our bodies to recover.

As disciples of Jesus we are called to give our all and to believe that when we feel we can’t go on God will support and uphold us. But we can’t give if we have nothing left to give. Jesus invites us to come away to a deserted place and rest. Let us accept that invitation so that our reserves are not depleted and that we always have more to give.


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