(Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:11-22)
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
(watch here: https://youtu.be/v96EzgzNWMs)
30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “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. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
There’s a story about a fisherman who was sitting near a seashore under the shade of a tree. Suddenly, a rich businessman who was passing by approached him and enquired as to why he was sitting under a tree and not working. To this, the poor fisherman replied that he had caught enough fishes for the day. Hearing this the rich man got angry and said, “Why don’t you catch more fishes instead of sitting in the shade wasting your time?” The fisherman responded by asking, “What would I do by catching more fishes?” “Well, you could catch more fishes, sell them, earn more money, and buy a bigger boat.” The fisherman sheepishly replied, “What would I do then?” “You could go fishing in deeper waters and catch even more fishes and earn even more money.” “What would I do then?” “You could buy many boats and employ many people to work for you and earn even more money.” “What would I do then?” “You could become a rich businessman like me.” “What would I do then?” “You could then enjoy your life peacefully.” To which the fisherman responded, with a twinkle in his eye, “What do you think I’m doing right now?”
It is all too easy to find ourselves going through life with the same mindset of that rich businessman. We get to believing that if we just work hard enough or long enough then we, too, can somehow earn our happiness. We’re told by the culture around us that happiness is found in stuff and you can’t have stuff if you don’t work. Yes, we can illegally take stuff or stuff can be given to us as gifts but even then there is work involved in managing that stuff. Stuff needs to be put to use in order for it to bring happiness. Unused stuff doesn’t bring happiness! We use stuff to bring us happiness! In order to use stuff we have to maintain it, perhaps make it grow like the rich businessman suggested, and maintaining and growing stuff involves work. But is the rich businessman right: does stuff bring us true and lasting happiness? Does work bring us true and lasting happiness? The fisherman didn’t believe so. He had caught enough to meet his needs for the day. He was satisfied with the amount of work he had accomplished and was equally satisfied by his time of rest. The rich businessman tried to convince him of his dissatisfaction but he saw right through it. He was happy and content with both his work and his rest.
Jesus’ disciples were no different than us. They also felt pressure to continuously work. Their culture was no different than ours—if you want stuff, than you have to work at getting it and/or maintaining it. This idea about work goes back to our shared Biblical ancestry. Adam and Eve were cursed to work for all the stuff in their lives, whether that stuff was the food of the earth or their children. Even God had to work at bringing Creation into effect as we heard in the opening chapter of Genesis. Like us, God wanted stuff and put in the work of getting it and maintaining it. But back to the disciples…the disciples had been called by Jesus to do the work of spreading God’s love into the world. How? By bringing people to Jesus and an understanding of who Jesus was as the Son of God. Like the fisherman in the earlier story, they were called to be “fishers of people.” They left their respective trades to follow Jesus, to learn from Jesus about God’s kingdom, and to bring others to Jesus. There is a lot of work that goes into following Jesus, learning from Jesus, and bringing others to Jesus! Jesus is not the easiest person to understand. Jesus is not the easiest person to agree with. People often don’t come willingly or eagerly to Jesus. It is WORK committing your life to serving Jesus! Make no mistake about it, a calling into discipleship is a calling into WORK.
But it is a work unlike any other type of work. Jesus is a boss unlike many bosses. We heard in our gospel reading that Jesus’ disciples were exhausted from the work of their ministry. Did he push them to perform harder and longer like the rich businessman had tried to do? No, of course not. Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Jesus was like the poor fisherman—he understood the importance of both work and rest. Jesus didn’t push his disciples beyond their physical capabilities. He may have pushed them in other ways but he respected that their bodies tired and needed rest. He invited them to remove themselves from their work and get some much needed rest. Jesus didn’t stop his work but he gave his disciples permission to stop theirs. Remember, it is very easy to go through life with the mindset of the rich businessman. More stuff equals more work equals more happiness! It’s very easy to forget the necessity of times of rest. Believe it or not, happiness can be found in times of rest. Sometimes all we need is permission to rest to snap us out of the rich businessman mindset. Jesus eagerly gives us that permission.
Jesus is the great shepherd. Our other assigned readings help remind us of this. The shepherd protects the sheep so that they might rest. The great Shepherd “makes us lie down in green pastures, leads us beside still waters; he restores our souls.” It is in times of rest that our souls are restored. Times of work serve their purposes but times of rest also serve purposes. We need times of rest with green pastures and still waters to know God’s deep and abiding love for us. It is in times of rest that we can reflect on God’s steadfast grace and mercy. It is hard to reflect on God’s love and grace and mercy when all we do is work. Once we reflect on God’s love and grace and mercy, we are better able to lift up stronger praise and thanksgiving. God wants our praise and thanksgiving! God loves our praise and thanksgiving! Our passage from Jeremiah condemns the bad shepherds among us. Who are the bad shepherds? Those who don’t understand the importance of times of rest. Those who would leave the sheep anxious and fearful. Those who believe work is the key to true and lasting happiness. Good shepherds work to provide times of rest. Though rest itself might not provide true and lasting happiness, it does allow for deeper connection with Jesus, the source of true and lasting happiness. After all, even God rested on the 7th day to reflect on the work of the week.
Times of rest not only give us time to reflect on God’s love, grace, and mercy but they also give us opportunities to hone skills for our life’s work. There’s another story about a man who challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.” “But you didn’t notice,” said the winning woodsman, “that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest.” God gives us times to rest so that we might come back to our work with sharper tools. With sharper tools we’re able to accomplish greater deeds. Our work benefits from our times of rest. God demands that we work in this life but wants us to do our work most efficiently and beneficially. Jesus, the great Shepherd, gives us the rest we need in serving him. As we continue defining what it means to be his disciples this Pentecost season, let us not only rejoice for work in the Shepherd but also for…rest in the Shepherd.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.