“The Apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
Come away by yourselves, Jesus says. Rest a while. You need a break. You need to remove yourselves from the bustling crowds and just be. You’re hungry, and you’re spent. You must rest.
I see them, weary, getting into the boats with great relief. They share a buoyant joy, having just related to Jesus how His presence and power and truth are transforming His people’s lives. The 12, with Jesus, rejoice at drawing away. They feel the comfort of familiarity with one another, the particular pleasure of separating from the crowds with their beloved Jesus. This moment is gold.
But then—the crowds. They spot the dot of the boat across the water, and scurry to greet these intriguing preachers and miracle workers. They hunger for more: more truth, more healing, more confirmation of this mysterious man’s identity. They rushed, they ran, from all the towns in hopeful anticipation.
And, if it were me, this is what would happen next:
“When Emma disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
her heart was moved with frustration and indignation and exasperation at them,
for they would not leave her alone;
and she got back in the boat to escape.”
Okay, that’s maybe a slight exaggeration. But I don’t know if it’s that far off.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the interrupted life. I’ve been noticing those moments when my day does not go according to plan. It’s often in small ways, from a coworker with a question to a friend who asks a favor to a stranger who wants to chat. Most times, I like to think, I respond with some degree of patience and generosity. But there are also times that I don’t. And I’ve been thinking back to this scene, which has both comforted and confounded me.
Now, I’m a big proponent of living an ordered life. I’m all about getting eight hours of sleep and keeping holy the Sabbath and taking ample vacation time. But I’m also about recognizing those times that God is asking me to step out of myself, to forgo a moment of rest for the sake of a neighbor, to possess a disposition of openness to the world around me, what with all its needy inhabitants. I want my relationships and habits and tendencies to be fruitful, to be open to life. I want to learn from Jesus in the ways that he, having been similarly limited by hunger and tiredness and mere human preference, heroically chose to say “yes” to the interruptions.
So, I’ll keep looking for those times to say “yes” as Jesus did. I’ll keep asking for the grace to forgo my self-seeking inclinations. And hopefully, I’ll keep striving to live in such a way that, if it were me, my heart, too, would be moved with pity. And I wouldn’t get back on the boat.