Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Proper 11 / Year B
Jesus said to his disciples, “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.
Much of what we read in the bible feels so foreign to our day and time, but not this. Our culture’s bedrocks seem to be frenzied activity and perpetual demands. Meals get wedged in when and where possible: perhaps at a Chick-fil-a drive thru at 9:30 at night. Rather than being a necessity, leisure has become a luxury well beyond what most of us can afford.
Gandhi once said there is more to life than increasing its speed and yet this is exactly what we do. We load our calendars with a landslide of activities. We rev our motors well past the red lines of our personal RPM gauges. We assume we are constantly to be doing something… anything… as long as we are doing, doing, doing.
Acedia is one of the seven deadly sins and perhaps the most misunderstood. We get greed and gluttony and rest, but acedia is more mysterious. Most often translated as sloth or listlessness, acedia, at least according to Kierkegaard, has something to do with the “despairing refusal to be oneself.” For some, this refusal looks like an unwillingness to try; what we refer to as being lazy or having self-doubt. But for others, it looks like the never slowing down. There is a difference between being industrious (what we are created for) and being on hyperdrive all the time.
In today’s Gospel reading we see Jesus inviting his disciples to “be themselves” by seeking a time of solitude and leisure. He helps them live out their imago dei (or divine image) by resting, as God did after six days of creative work. The biblical rationale behind the fourth commandment to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy is not that God demands our worship. Rather it is rooted in theology and history. The theology: God rested on the seventh day and so should we. The history: when God’s people were enslaved in Egypt they were made to work every day without respite. Constant work and continual activity imprisons. It is a refusal of one part of oneself.
This morning’s reading falls in the midst of some amazing activity in Jesus’ ministry. It begins with Jesus asleep in a boat during a storm, no doubt exhausted from what has come before. He disciples wake him and he calms the sea. Once ashore Jesus encounters Legion, a man so possessed the locals chain him to a tomb. After this and another boat trip Jesus is led to the home of a synagogue leader whose daughter is dying. On the way, a woman reaches out and touches him, healing her illness of thirteen long years. Next Jesus teaches in his hometown synagogue and his own people reject him. In response he commissions his followers to go throughout the region in teams of two to preach and to pray and to heal. In the meantime, we learn of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. When his disciples return to report on their travels, the band is inundated by various people with multiple needs. Is it any wonder Jesus diagnoses their need to get away!
The Gospels tell us big stories, but often in between, in just a few words or a sentence, they give us a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. He goes off alone to pray. He doesn’t want anyone to know what house he is staying in. He is hungry. He is thirsty. He is tired. He withdraws. He seeks solitude. These are not signs of weakness or failure or selfishness. They are acknowledgments of who he is and signs of his determination to be who God has created him to be. They are not times when he refuses to heal or to care. They are essential to how he responds to those who are like sheep without a shepherd.
Coming out of a protracted time of quarantine and severe restrictions it might be tempting to think we are emerging from a long period of extended leisure, but nothing could be farther from the truth. We have spent well over a year learning new ways to do everyday things. We have had to be more than vigilant to protect our own health as well as the health of those we love. We have taken on new roles (like being a stay-at-home parent/teacher) while trying to keep up with our old roles (working remotely). Whatever else this time has been, one thing is certain… it has been anything but leisurely. And it is telling (and wise) the first response many have made as restrictions are eased has been to go away. We recognize our need for rest, for leisure, for respite, for Sabbath.
Sam Hamilton-Poore is a Presbyterian minister who wrote a book titled Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation. He contends one way to care for our planet is to pray for it, and to pray for our place in it. Here is one of his prayers that feels deeply rooted in turning from acedia by embracing who we are created to be:
Grant me grace this day
to rest and remember
that there is nothing I have to do,
nothing I have to buy or sell,
nothing I have to produce or consume
in order to become who I already am:
your beloved creation.
May your overworked creation
and those who cannot rest today
come to know the liberation of your sabbath.
And this is my prayer for you as well. May you come to know who you are created to be; a person with a meaningful purpose to be sure. But also a person who does not allow yourself to be enslaved by life’s demands. May your life be full of times to rest and to dine and to be beloved by God and those who are dear to you.