30 January 2016

Mark 6:30-34

“Come away to a deserted place.” (v. 30)

Psalm: Psalm 24


Jesus is constantly active and on the move in Mark's Gospel. 'Kai euthus' ('and immediately' in Greek) is a phrase which begins many of its stories and sentences.

But here is a change of gear. The apostles have returned to recount their first missionary journeys. And Jesus' response is to propose retreat, solitude and rest.

There's a natural wisdom in a balance between activity and rest, doing and 'being'. In a Western context, there's often a disproportionate pull towards activity and a life of doing; even into a kind of competitive busy-ness. I can assess my worth and success by how much I've done or achieved in a day … or my life so far.

The disciples have been active in the work of the gospel. They are still surrounded by people coming and going, and need rest. Jesus took is taking them to a quieter, less busy environment. So what is to be made of his sudden abandonment of the planned rest, in response to the pursuing crowd, "like sheep without a shepherd" (v. 34)?

The decision to seek rest and quiet still points to the need for a proper balance, for the recognition of weariness, and to the importance of rest. But while balance remains the ideal, it may not always be available in the short term. Sheep may not survive without shepherds: the stakes can be high in a world of immense need.

'Compassion' has its roots in the Greek word for guts: it's 'feeling it in your gut', a visceral feeling. In the difficult business of judging the balance between activity and rest, Jesus errs on the side of compassion.

To Ponder

  • How is the balance of activity and rest, busy-ness and quiet, in your own life and discipleship?
  • How do you understand the word 'compassion'? What other word or phrase might express its meaning for you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Carole Irwin

Carole is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has served in circuits in Folkestone and Bradford, and is currently Director of Studies at Wesley House, Cambridge.