16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) - “Come away by yourselves… and rest a while.”
The apostles have just come back from a “successful” mission, having driven out many demons and curing many sick people. Last Sunday we heard how Jesus sent them out two by two with his authority, instructing them to take nothing for the journey so as to rely on God’s providence. Their “success” has generated quite a buzz. A great number of people now were seeking them to the point where they had no opportunity even to eat. Jesus sees what is happening and says, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” I’m sure that Jesus was concerned for the physical well-being of the disciples - that they take time to get some nourishment, but what he is inviting them to do is much more important than that. The Apostles must have been very excited about the work of the mission and zealous about keeping it going, but I suspect that Jesus is offering them a correction here. They come back to Jesus and “reported all they had done and taught.” Their focus seems to be on what they have done - “look what we did, Jesus” - when the purpose of the mission was to discover and to verify that Jesus was with them on the mission. It was Jesus at work in them that allowed them to expel demons and cure people. Jesus invites them to “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” not simply to take a break from the work, but to spend time with him to reflect on what was happening in their lives. “Rest” is not simply a break from activity - an escape from work or the normal routine - but “being with Jesus”. That is why we call heaven “eternal rest” - because that is where we are with God eternally. Jesus came to bring the presence of God to earth to give us a foretaste of heaven here and now. This is what the disciples were lacking or missing in all their activity and mission: that Jesus was with them - that God was with them. Without this awareness, our work becomes about ourselves and we begin to measure “success” by output or results, and we think that things will be better if we get more done. The reality, as the Gospel episode relates, is that the work is always going to be there - there is no real “escape”. When they got to the “deserted” place, there was a vast crowd waiting for them. But the purpose of this time with Jesus was so they could face the work and look at the people with the heart of Jesus - with a heart moved with pity for them. Without this time away with Jesus reflecting on his activity in our lives and becoming more aware of his presence, our work becomes a burden. People are looked at as problems and intrusions on “our” time. We become resentful and bitter. Without a relationship with Jesus, we are unable to face the reality of our lives. Our lives lack meaning. We are all “shepherds” in a sense that we have been entrusted with something or someone to care for. A parish, a family, co-workers, or members of a team or a group. But without a relationship with the Lord, without engaging our lives with an awareness of his presence, at some point we stop caring for those around us. They become a means to an end to our “success” in earthly terms, and if they don’t cooperate in our plan, we want to either control them more or just walk away. This is the correction that the Lord is trying to make through the prophet Jeremiah. Without this personal care - compassion for the other, the flock becomes scattered and unfruitful. We are “fearful” and “tremble” either when we are afraid of punishment from the overbearing “shepherd” or feel lost because the shepherd is absent. Those are the two temptations or extremes we go toward without having the heart of Christ - to be overbearing and want to control others or to escape and just not care. Jesus says to the apostles and to us: “come away and rest a while”. It doesn’t take a lot of time to rest with Jesus, but it is something essential. He just asks for “a while”. He’s not asking for a 30 day retreat. The rest we see in today’s Gospel was basically during a commute from one place to the next. Do we take time each day for some quiet prayer and reflection? The church is open every day for “private prayer”. Do we regularly “make a visit” with Jesus? We have adoration on Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Why not make a regular hour or half-hour of prayer with Jesus in front of the Blessed Sacrament? Do we commute to work? Make it a time of prayer and resting with Jesus. Daily Mass? Daily Rosary. Take a walk in the park with the Lord. Do we have friends who can help us to see and to reflect on what Jesus is doing in our lives. I offer weekly time of reflection on the Sunday readings via Zoom. Women meet on Monday afternoon, and the men meet on Tuesday morning. All are welcome. If you are interested, please email me at the rectory. I’ve found this time together with parishioners and friends “sharing faith” by reflecting on the scriptures very fruitful.
I just got back last night from a mini-vacation with friends. It was just one extra day than my usual Friday away from the parish, but it was so “restful”. It was time of being with other friends who are following Jesus. Where two or three are gathered in his name, Jesus is present among us. We had meals together, played games together, and gave witnesses about how we recognized Christ present in our lives. We took a long hike in a beautiful state park and hiked the last mile to the top of the mountain in silence to reflect on the presence of God in the beauty of creation. I got emergency calls, and many emails were waiting for me when I returned home. But it is this time of rest, just for a little while, that is so important for me in being formed by the Lord to be a good shepherd. This is what the Lord is asking so I can care for you better. But he is asking the same for you. Please take the time to rest with the Lord. It will make a big difference and fill your life and work with peace and joy.