“Resting and Healing” Colchester Federated Church, July 18, 2021, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56)

Our Gospel story begins with a simple statement from Mark, “the apostles returned to Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught.”[1]  This simple statement leads to some immediate questions.  Returned from where?  And what exactly had the apostles done and taught?  We have to go back a bit in Chapter 6 to answer these questions.  Jesus was traveling through the surrounding villages of Nazareth teaching and he called the twelve apostles to him.  Jesus sent them out in pairs and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.  He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick.  Jesus even got specific about what not to take—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts.  The disciples could wear sandals but not put on two shirts. 

This journey of being sent out in pairs was about radical trust in God and their mission, among other lessons.  Jesus told them to go out among the people and if anyone doesn’t welcome you, shake the dust off your feet and move on.  Mark tells us that the disciples did indeed do as Jesus instructed.  They traveled in that region proclaiming that people should change their hearts and lives.  The disciples cast out many demons and anointed people who were ill with olive oil, healing them.

We hear all about this earlier in Mark’s Gospel.  By the time we get to today’s text near the end of Chapter 6, the disciples are back from their journeys.  They come back and tell Jesus everything they had done and taught.  Mark has a habit of getting on with the next thing in his Gospel.  As a result, we get no additional information.  How did it go?  Who did they meet?  Did everyone welcome them or did they have to shake off the dust and move on sometimes?  There are details about their travels that we just don’t know. 

But what we do know is that the disciples have returned from their journeys.  And because many people were coming and going (since Jesus was present and there wasn’t even time for them to eat), Jesus tells them to take care of themselves.  Jesus says, “Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.”[2]  Then Jesus and these close friends depart in a boat by themselves for a deserted place.

After these travels that required faith and trust, embarking on a journey that entailed teaching and healing and possible rejection from the world—Jesus told those closest to him to rest for a while.  This is so important.  Jesus goes further by going with his followers into a boat to go off by themselves to a deserted place away from the crowds to rest before Jesus himself gets back to the work of healing. 

Healing and resting.  Resting and healing again.  There is a pattern here that we modern people would do well to understand and remember.  Jesus didn’t instruct the disciples to rest just so they could go out and get back to work to heal those in need.  The disciples were worthy of rest because they were beloved children of God.  Full stop.  We don’t rest just so we can go out and be more productive.  We rest because God told us to rest, that’s the whole point of Sabbath.  Sabbath is a day of peace and harmony—peace between people, peace within ourselves, and peace with all things.  We are even invited to rest on the Sabbath as if all our work is done.  This is the invitation that Jesus was extending to his weary followers.  Rest from your labor.  Rest from the very thought of labor.  Come to me, and I will give you rest.

Remember that Jesus was Jewish and this religious and cultural identity shaped how he saw the world.  In this particular example from the Gospel story this morning, Jesus’ Jewish identity shaped how he viewed the importance of rest.  It shaped why he told his followers to rest after they had just been on that journey.

New Testament professor Amy-Jill Levine reminds Christians that, “Jesus of Nazareth dressed like a Jew, prayed like a Jew (and most likely in Aramaic), instructed other Jews on how best to live according to the commandments given by God to Moses, taught like a Jew, argued like a Jew with other Jews, and died like thousands of other Jews on a Roman cross.”[3]  Jesus and his earliest followers held the Torah and the Prophets as sacred and prayed the Psalms.  Jesus continued in the line of Jewish prophets and like them: was a phenomenal public speaker, used symbolic actions, called for a moral and religious renewal within Judaism, and risked political persecution.  Levine explains that, “This historical anchoring need not and should not, in Christian teaching, preclude or overshadow Jesus’s role in the divine plan.  He must, in the Christian tradition, be more than just a really fine Jewish teacher.  But he must be that Jewish teacher as well.”[4]

Jesus’ Jewish identity matters in our Gospel story from Mark because Jesus taught his disciples the importance of rest.  A lesson that takes on deeper meanings because of Jewish understandings of the Sabbath.  After working hard teaching and healing, Jesus told his followers to come by themselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.  Why?  Because Jesus understood the importance of Sabbath since this is central to the practice of the Jewish faith to this day. 

Jesus often got into trouble for what he was up to on the Sabbath.  Other Jewish groups didn’t always approve of him healing people on the Sabbath.  Or in Mark Chapter 2 his disciples picked the heads of wheat in a wheat field on the Sabbath and were accused of working and therefore breaking the Sabbath law.  In that instance, Jesus told his detractors, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.”[5]  All of this to say that there are quite a few instances where Jesus rested, encouraged his followers to rest, and engaged with what resting on the Sabbath means for the faithful.  Rest is after all one of the key understandings of what Sabbath is all about.

Perhaps one of the best-known Jewish works on keeping the Sabbath was written by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.  Rabbi Heschel wrote The Sabbath in 1951 and it’s not an exaggeration to call this book timeless.  He explains, “Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year.”[6]  And he shares that one of the most distinguished words in all the Bible is the Hebrew word qadosh which can be translated as “holy”.  It’s a word that more than any other represents the mystery and majesty of the divine.  The first holy object in the history of the world isn’t a mountain or an altar or a building made by human hands.  No, qadosh is used for the first time in the Book of Genesis at the very end of the first story of creation to describe time.  We can read in Genesis, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation.”[7]  What makes the Sabbath holy?  Rest.

In the end, Rabbi Heschel writes, “Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.  The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”[8]  Rabbi Heschel’s more modern reflections on the Sabbath help us understand just how much of a gift Jesus gave to his disciples and to us when he instructed them to leave work behind, get into the boat, and rest a while.  Since Jesus was a Jewish teacher, it makes sense that he emphasized rest to his disciples.  Because after a long journey where their faith must have been tried and tested, they needed simply to rest a while.  Maybe you needed to hear this Gospel story today.  Hear the words of Jesus as if they are being spoken directly to you.  “Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.”  Rest not to get back to work.  Rest because you are a beloved child of God.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Mark 6:30, Common English Bible.
[2] Mark 6:31.
[3] Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, 51.
[4] Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew, 20.
[5] Mark 2:27.
[6] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, 8.
[7] Genesis 2:3.
[8] Heschel, The Sabbath, 13.

Photo by Clément Falize on Unsplash