The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He 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. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As 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…
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And 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.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
This spring I ran my first and hopefully last half marathon. But that experience was not nearly as tiring or draining as this last year of pandemic. This last year has been exhausting for all of us. Our church moved online. Everything shut down at least for a while. We all navigated changing mandates and growing science. Parents had to start working from home while their kids were online. Some parents had to keep going into jobs deemed essential without the support system for their children. Others shifted online and thought this might be easier but quickly learned that they were expected to produce the same amount or even more while living through the pandemic. We experienced political upheaval and enormous social movements. Teachers had to learn how to teach online. Medical professionals were receiving new structures and procedures for dealing with COVID on top of the already stress filled work of a hospital. Those caring for aging family members were isolated from support systems. It feels to me like we are completing a marathon, and I imagine that many of us are ready for a break. (Marathon metaphor from Pastor Jenny Smith)
The apostles are also ready for a break. They are just returning from their two by two mission out into the world. They did not bring anything besides themselves and only stayed with those who hosted them. They all came back and were clamoring to tell Jesus all about it, all of the good and all of the bad. So many new and surprising things had happened. They have grown and learned and changed. And Jesus sees all the great and difficult work that they have done and says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Jesus loves the apostles and knows that it is time for a break because as our text says, “they had no [free time] even to eat…” Yikes. They need a vacation very badly. They need support and care so that they can continue working without burning out. They need to rest a while.
So as we head back for normal, whatever that means, while masks are being removed in so many places, while we are traveling again to see loved ones, while work is moving back in person, and even church is heading that direction, I imagine it feels like we have completed a marathon, like the apostles. We are looking around for the end-of-the-marathon tent that has snacks and oranges and chocolate milk! But instead of seeing a tent, much to our dismay, there is another starting line. The second marathon is beginning. The marathon of return. The marathon of learning new ways of being as we navigate different risks and comfort zones and even our own growth from this last year. The marathon of trying new technologies and integrating our knowledge from the pandemic with our in person knowledge. The marathon of learning to live without someone who has passed away. The marathon of returning to the world of capitalistic drive that demands we keep producing no matter what. Because our world does not know how to stop. And the needs of our world have not disappeared because of a pandemic but in many many cases have actually gotten worse.
Likewise, the disciples packed their camping gear and bathing suits and headed for the woods for some much needed R&R. But of course, after doing all these wonderful things for the surrounding communities and traveling with Jesus, the famous teacher and healer, it was impossible to get away. The people flocked to them. They were in desperate need. And Jesus had compassion on them too. Some may interpret this as bad boundaries. Some may interpret this as sacrificing the needs of the apostles for the needs of the crowd. Some may interpret this as something only someone who is fully divine could accomplish because we all need a little break every now and then. But Jesus teaches us more than just compassion. Jesus’ compassion for the apostles and the compassion for the crowds of people in need show us a way greater than just individualistic well being or self care.
As we begin our next marathon faced with a capitalistic structure that demands more and more, faced with a broken world in need of love and justice, and faced with our own personal needs in the coming days and months, what can we learn from Jesus and his method of care? So at the beginning of this second marathon instead of sprinting or going for a personal best, let’s try something new. Not filling our schedules to the brim, not saying yes to every good initiative, not working to be the most productive or create the most quantity or take it all on our own. Instead, let’s walk. Let’s stop running and just walk. Instead of self care maybe we could shift our focus to collective care where we make sure everyone’s needs are cared for and that all may receive rest. (Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice) For this second marathon, let’s not do it on our own. Let’s walk together. Because marathons are not about who is the fastest. Marathons are about finishing. And if we walk and keep each other company, we will finish. But it will be on our own time and without injuries and all of us will make it instead of just some.
Jesus knew he could handle caring for the crowds because he was not alone. His friends, the apostles, had just gone out and received all the training and practice and can also provide care and support to the crowds. Jesus is not alone on his mission of love and justice for the world. You are not alone. We are not alone. And while our next steps might feel overwhelming or exhausting, know that you can lean on us and we too shall lean on you because it is only together that we can make it.