‘‘The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.” Mark 6:30
The end of the school year is reached this week. A time to reflect on the year that has passed, a time to note what has been achieved, and also what has not been achieved.
Today’s Gospel reading seems an appropriate piece of Scripture for such a week. It tells of reports on what has been done and of people taking time back from their tasks.
It is easy to read Verses 30-34 of Saint Mark Chapter 6 and think them to be a passing piece of narrative, a continuity item linking one story and the next. The only spoken words in the verses are from Jesus, telling the disciples to take a break. Yet within this short piece of the story there is significant teaching.
In Saint Mark Chapter 6 Verse 7, Jesus has called the Twelve together and he has sent them out two by two to preach, to exorcize and to heal. Now the apostles have come to give an end of term report on how things have gone with their first efforts at ministry.
How often do Christian people ever do that?
Sunday worship may conclude with the words, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” but how seriously are those words taken in the six days that follow? In the ordinary, everyday life that is lived from Monday to Saturday, what awareness is there that there should be a response to the words telling people to go out to love and serve the Lord? What sense has there been that Christians are expected to act in the name of Christ? How many things might be done differently if there were a sense of a need to follow those final words of the Sunday service?
Having been sent out, the disciples are enthusiastic to report back, Saint Mark says they gathered around Jesus.
Coming to church on a Sunday morning, is there a sense that this is a moment for reporting back? When sitting down in church, is there a sense of a need to give an account to God for all that has been done in the past week? If this is what Jesus expects of the apostles, does he not expect similar of people now? Does he not expect that his words be taken seriously and that people take seriously the words they have said themselves?
Jesus is satisfied with the reports given by the apostles, they have been satisfactory students. Saint Mark does not report on any comment Jesus might have made other than Jesus saying to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” The apostles have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the work, Verse 31 says that, “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”
Leaving church after a service, how often is there a preparedness to live out the Christian faith with the degree of enthusiasm shown by the disciples? Isn’t it more the case that God gets a look in if time can be spared?
In a remote town in Tanzania, I met Doctor Samuel. He could have found lucrative work in the cities or outside the country, but he believed God had called him to work in the 100 bed hospital (that sometimes had 200 patients) in this obscure place.
At the end of his rounds he would begin the paperwork for he was also the hospital administrator. A non-stipendiary priest, Doctor Samuel devoted Sunday morning to church duties. If there were no emergencies, Doctor Samuel’s time off was Sunday afternoon before the rapid sunset at 6 pm and his evening rounds.
Doctor Samuel drove his visitors to a lakeshore in his old battered jeep, he heard that going for a drive was what we did on Sunday afternoons. He stood looking out across the lake.
“Do you ever have a holiday?”
He smiled. “A holiday? How could I? Who would there be to do my work? Who would run the hospital?”
Dr Samuel did not take holidays, but this spot on the lakeshore was the deserted place where he found peace.
The apostles accept the need to be busy, but accept also the need to be quiet. If there is sometimes a lack of enthusiasm in church for people to be the way they should be; there is sometimes also a lack of a willingness to be still, to be quiet. Sometimes it is almost as though there were a fear that there might be questions about priorities that couldn’t answer be answered. Perhaps there is a fear that there might be questions about what were the things in in life that really mattered.
The end of term, the moment of quietness, for Jesus and the apostles is a very brief one, it lasts no more than the duration of their boat journey. Saint Mark writes, in Verse 33, “Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.”
The presence of Jesus has people running around the lake to be there when he stepped ashore. Coming to church, joining in the Communion prayer, saying “the Lord is with us,” is there ever a sense of the Lord’s presence so strong that it would compel hurrying somewhere? If there isn’t that sense, what does it say about faith?
Verse 34 says, “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.” How much like those of the present times were the people in Jesus’ time. There is a constant spiritual searching in the current times—look at the books on sale, look at the websites and the forums online—and there is not much finding. In Jesus, people found their answers; it should be as true now as it was then, but they will only find him if the church is there to point the way.
Skim over these five verses that might appear as simply a connection between one story and the next and vital details are missed. Leaving church today, living daily lives through the week, what report will there to be made when arriving next Sunday?