If asked, “Why are you a follower of Jesus?” which admittedly is probably more an imagined question than a real one, although we may be asked, “Why are you a Christian?”; I think my answer would be, “Because of Jesus’ compassion.” Or “Because Jesus shows me/us a God of compassion.”
Compassion – “moved by the suffering or distress of another and by the desire to relieve it.” (Oxford) This is Jesus. This is the God Jesus speaks of and shows us. In this Sunday’s story, Jesus has compassion on the disciples who are exhausted and “had no leisure even to eat.” And Jesus invites them to “Come away to a deserted place… and rest a while.” Jesus is moved by their weariness and invites them to come and rest to relieve it. Jesus is compassion.
And as we heard, so also for the crowds of people who continue to pursue Jesus and the disciples, arriving at that hoped for deserted place before them. And Jesus has “compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” And Jesus teaches them. And wherever Jesus goes, the people recognize him and bring those who are sick to him, and whether in the villages or towns or farms, Jesus heals them by his touch, out of compassion. Jesus is compassion.
And Jesus calls that compassion out of people. Jesus calls it out of the disciples who return telling Jesus all that they had done and taught. Jesus calls it out of the people who bring those who are sick on mats from everywhere, that they could touch even the fringe of Jesus’ clothes and be healed. And Jesus calls that compassion out of us. To be moved by the suffering or distress of others, and by the desire to relieve it. Jesus is compassion and calls us to be compassion for others.
And as we hear and feel in today’s stories and all around us, there is no end to that need. And it can be exhausting.
Pastor Prema Samuel, Assistant to the Bishop of Alberta and the Territories, prepared a sermon for this Sunday for the ELCIC Summer Sermon Series. She describes the weariness the disciples and we may be experiencing. She writes:
We are exhausted. As I am preparing this sermon, I am hot and sticky and tired. It is 34 degrees and I have a whole week of this ahead. How I feel this dry, hot day reflects how I have felt the past number of months.
I turn to Facebook for some escape. I usually enjoy pictures of people’s camping trips and flower gardens, beautiful baby pictures and family events. But populated throughout social media are stories of the great injustices –injustices perpetrated on our Muslim brothers and sisters...the horrors of the residential schools. These issues, along with concerns of climate change and gender equality, are of immense importance. But for just a few blessed minutes I want to find an escape from all that needs to be done, to be challenged, voiced - to find peace. Quickly enough, that quest for positivity becomes swallowed up by the (sadness) I was hoping to avoid for a few, precious minutes.
When I check out the news feeds from my family and friends in India, I find the same thing waiting for me. The grim realities of COVID, as my country of birth faces levels of death and trauma due to the virus which some have referred to as genocidal in nature. Of course, that does not even take into consideration the migrant workers seeking work or refuge, amidst the numerous atrocities towards women and young children, students and so on. I feel helpless, knowing I am half a world away and can do nothing to help. All I can do is pray and hope that God will see my family and my country through this horrible time, and I worry.
I am exhausted, deep in my bones and soul and I know that I echo a sentiment shared by many. I am exhausted!
In our Gospel reading, Mark tells of the disciples returning to Jesus from their missionary work, excited by all that they have done and taught. It reminds me of the day when my grade 1 child returned from a hot field trip day at the Zoo. He was so excited to tell me about all that he saw and did at the Zoo, that he did not give any thought to the heat of the day and that he had been walking through most of it and possibly very tired. As a mother my first thought was, “did you eat your lunch, did you drink enough water throughout the day?”–to ensure that he was well and cared for.
Responding to them, Jesus recognizes that and offers the disciples the invitation for rest and nourishment. They are invited to eat and rest, knowing that soon enough they will need to return to the world. But right now, rest is far more important. Without it, they will not be able to do what they have been called to do. How many times, over the last many months, have you rested? And when I say rested, I mean truly rested. A soul rest that leaves you nourished and feeling alive. The soul rest that is so needed after the soul work, the Spirit’s work that comes from passion and love for the speaking and doing –proclaiming the Gospel. This soul rest has certainly been a challenging one for me through this time of COVID. Along with negotiating the world we live in, to negotiate education and care for my family, ensure the call I have been invited to serve is (served), to worry about loved ones’ health and well-being. Not even to mention the exhaustion from weeping for and with our Indigenous siblings, speaking for climate justice, challenging discrimination against persons of color and disabilities, against the many oppressions and injustices... This is soul work, and it is exhausting! And needs soul nourishment and soul rest….
In this moment of our history, we need rest in Jesus. We echo the needs of the disciples and those that came running and those that were brought to Jesus. Whether we were trying to help negotiate the church through this unprecedented time or whether we were just trying to hold on, our very being cries out for relief and for hope. We are crying out for God. And as Christ does, he comes to us in compassion and offers us that peace, that rest. Christ gathers us in and bids us to rest, to put down our burdens and let go…
In our need, Christ comes and offers us food and rest knowing that we will have to go back out into the world. As we rest, Christ continues the healing and teaching. We rest in Christ to be strengthened to get back to where Christ is to speak, challenge, heal, teach, nurture and nourish in compassion – to go and do the soul work. We are needed to be the hands, heart, ears, voice, eyes of Christ. But for now, knowing Christ continues the work of compassion, we are invited to rest, to rejuvenate, to renew. We will go out with renewed strength to clearly see and do, with refreshed heart to passionately love and challenge, with revived hope to heal and forgive. But Jesus won’t let us do that so exhausted that we cannot even function. Instead, Jesus will grant us peace, restore our hope and help us to see again that we are valued and loved always so that in turn, we can value and love all God’s children.
With thanks to Pastor Prema for these gospel words, words of compassion and soul rest for our and other’s weary, exhausted, hearts and minds, bodies and souls.
Jesus is compassion and shows us God is compassion for all and all this hurting world. The Spirit calls us to compassion in everything we are and say and do, individually and together, in church and community, neighbourhood and world for the common good of God’s loving desire. And we receive from Christ Jesus, who is compassion, all we need in gracious word and sacraments of water, bread and wine, of his very self, the soul food and soul rest we need to continue in Jesus’ compassion to bring relief to every suffering and distressed soul. Let it be so. In all our relations. Amen.