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 he 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. –Mark 6:30-34
Can you feel Jesus’s fatigue in this passage? I can, viscerally. It is so important to retreat, to regroup, to recharge. It is so important to eat and rest and spend time in deserted places when your work is in high demand. These first verses need to illicit real fatigue in us, the readers, in order for the story to work. Then, when we get to the end of the passage, we are truly struck by Jesus compassion. Instead of getting upset and being short with the people, like I would if I were in dire need of retreat and it was ruined by a mob of needy people, he is moved. They move him to be more open. He takes a deep breath and continues to teach. Thank goodness.
For they were like sheep without a shepherd. This visual is so strong for me. I see this in the teenagers I work with. They are in a developmental stage when it is healthy for them to question authority and be critical of institution. They are beginning to define themselves against their peer group instead of their families. They are forming herds, and it feels exciting to them to move as a herd without a shepherd. Many of them turn away from religion, the church, the stories their parents taught them. They want to be free from these things, that all of a sudden feel suffocating, restricting, confining. They have a deep desire to wander the field without direction. I encourage young people to go, wander, frolic, play. Enjoy what it feels like to run away without heeding the call back. Often their instinct is healthy. They are running from what they see as hypocritical in the church, in organized religion. They are running from the ways that we as humans fall short. So run, I tell them. Run from those things. Just make sure you are running toward something good. Don’t mistake the love of God with the sin of humanity. Wander, frolic, question, yes. But run toward love, beauty, forgiveness, truth, and you will find Jesus again.
This is not just a teenage tendency. Don’t we all get lost? Prone to wander, as the hymn says. Prone to leave the God I love.
We may not be running from authority, but we allow our busy lives, our ego, our pain to pull us away. Maybe we get so swept up in thinking we don’t deserve love or forgiveness that it is too hard to stay. Or maybe we don’t want to admit that we need a shepherd’s help. We all have times when Jesus pities us, seeing us like sheep without a shepherd. And it’s okay, as long as we can hear the sound of his voice, feel the compassion of his love, and know when it is time to wander back into the unending fold of his care. There is no fatigue there. Jesus is ready to teach us many things.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me. –JN 10:27