Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
[Jesus said to his disciples, ]
to a deserted / wilderness place
all by yourselves
and rest up a little.” -Mark 6:31
All you vacationers out there, here’s your vacation verse ! We have a biblical warrant to get out of town and take a break !
Mark chapter 6 gives us a glimpse of the frantic pace and emotional ebbs and flows that Jesus and his followers experienced in the midst of their ministry. Jesus faced disrespect and disbelief in his hometown; they went from town to town, teaching and healing; Jesus sent the Twelve out by twos to preach and heal and cast out demons; and the Twelve reported back to Jesus about their adventures. Then they tried to take a break (v. 31).
They failed to get their break.
The crowds saw the direction Jesus and the disciples were headed, across the lake, and they beat them to the spot. When Jesus got out of the boat, thousands of people were milling around, hoping he would heal them and teach them. Jesus felt for them, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus’ compassion moved him to give up his vacation plans— and he asked his disciples to do the same.
They all spent that day listening to Jesus’ teachings, but then the crowd was hungry. At this point, we come to the story of Jesus feeding at least five thousand people from five bread loaves and two fishes. That really kept the disciples hopping for awhile. After the meal, and the business of collecting the baskets and baskets of leftovers, Jesus “immediately” bundled the disciples into the boat, to send them away from the crowd. John’s gospel, reporting on what appears to be the same incident, said that Jesus did this because “Jesus realized that they [the crowds] were about to come and take him by force to make him king....” (John 6:15) Jesus turned and climbed a nearby mountain, to get away and pray.
It does not appear, from the text, that the disciples got a prayer break. They had their orders from Jesus, and were off again ! First, the wind was against their boat, so they were making no progress in their rowing; then Jesus walked to them across the water, which badly frightened them; then Jesus quizzed them, to find out if they understood the miracles they were experiencing (they didn’t); and then they arrived at the next town— to start all over again, going town to town, healing the sick. (Mark 6:32 – 56)
So much for the disciples’ vacation plans.
Not everybody in our world gets a vacation. From talking with our church folks, I gather that some of you did not have “vacations” as youngsters— although you made the most of a working life in the beautiful Virginia countryside. It seems clear to me that Jesus wanted his followers to take a break, out in the natural wilderness, at least to pray. This does not mean an expensive fling.
I want to highlight six things from this Bible lesson.
One, it is good to balance the busyness of life with sabbath, prayer time and rest. Jesus did, and he took his disciples along with him.
Two, wherever you go on vacation, be sure that you are with Jesus. If you feel that Jesus would probably not go where you’re planning to go— change plans.
Three, wilderness is not useless: it is necessary. Among other important purposes, protecting wilderness and natural spaces protects humanity’s opportunity to get away from so-called civilization and be “in God’s country.”
Four, sometimes our plans to take breaks fail. When this happens, rather than sulk and imagine that our life is ruined, we might try what Jesus disciples did: they went through the changes with Jesus, and found themselves privileged to witness miracles they had never dreamed of, back when they thought they were headed for a nice rest.
Five, even when we are “on vacation” to try and rest ourselves, we never stop meeting and learning about the lives and needs of others. Some of my most meaningful encounters with others have occurred while I’ve been working... but others have been while I thought I was “off the clock.” God is always placing people along our route. Are we too busy, working or playing, to care about them ?
Six, make worship and prayer a significant part of your time away. God doesn’t forget you: don’t forget God.