Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Mark 6:30-34
We can almost picture the disciples telling Jesus excitedly about how busy and successful they have been. They are tired now but also elated. In a contemporary setting, we might well expect Jesus to say, “Well done. Keep up the good work. In fact, you might want to pick up the pace just a little.” But he says instead, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
These words of Jesus suggest something much more profound than simply, “Let’s take a break.” They are reminiscent of the passage in Deuteronomy where God asks Israel to keep his presence always in mind: “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise” (6:6-7). The words referred to contain the revelation about the reality of God’s existence and of his passionate love for us.
As it turns out, Jesus and his disciples don’t succeed in finding a respite from the crowd. But just planning to do so is already therapeutic and sets a boundary between our work in life and the equally important “remembering” of the Lord’s gracious presence in our lives.
When Jesus notes that the people are like “sheep without a shepherd,” he is saying, in effect, that they also need to be reminded of the primacy of God’s love in their lives and of the need to feel affirmed by that love. Ultimately, it is not success at work that gives direction and meaning to life but rather it is the growing awareness of a powerful and loving One who asks us to come aside and bask in a Presence that truly makes life worthwhile.
The gospel story seems at first to suggest that we should separate ourselves from our work at times in order to find some peace and quiet. That is surely part of it, but something much more profound is at issue here. We must in fact find the quiet place in our hearts to which we can withdraw at any time, whether at work or at play.
It is in this quiet place that we first heard the baptismal words, “You are my beloved child,” for these words of God, our loving Father, are spoken to all of us, just as they were to Jesus. They are spoken softly but very insistently. When we take time to hear them in that quiet place in our hearts, there is nowhere else that we would rather be, for they affirm us and liberate us to be all that we are meant to be. And when this happens, we are no longer like “sheep without a shepherd,” no longer confused about the meaning of life or about our ability to live in peace and joy.
One may object that, if this happens, we will soon be “out of touch” or distracted or living in fantasy. But that is exactly what does not happen. For when we are thus in touch with God, we become far more attuned to what is real in life than do the so-called “practical people.” The worst of all illusions is to think that it is normal to be a creature who has lost all contact with the Creator. The ideal situation is to be slightly distracted by the awareness of God’s love and thus to be calmly focussed on the task at hand. This “benign” distraction is really a way to be in prayerful contact with God…and with reality.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.