It’s the end of the day and you have been on your feet for the last twelve hours. If one more person makes demands on your good nature you will surely snap. Enough is enough; it’s time to retreat. It’s when you are feeling this desperate need for your own space that you can perhaps best appreciate the compassion of Jesus in today’s gospel.
Exhausted by the demands of the crowds, Jesus and his apostles escaped by boat to find a quiet place to rest. Unfortunately, the crowds worked out where Jesus was off to and beat him to it. Jesus stepped out of the boat to be greeted by the same crowd he had just left behind. He might have been forgiven at this point for snapping, for showing complete exasperation. Instead, Jesus is moved by pity because ‘they are like sheep without a shepherd.’ These are people who long to be taught, or long to find cures for loved ones. These are people who have no one else to turn to but Jesus, and so Jesus sets about putting their needs before his own.
Jesus is not promoting a work-until-you-drop ethic here. It’s important to remember in this story that Jesus was showing his apostles equal compassion. The apostles had just returned from their mission to evangelise. They had travelled many miles, and spent many hours in preaching and in driving out unclean spirits. Jesus’ ministry had been timesed by twelve and it didn’t take a genius to guess that the small party of men, would suddenly be swamped by excited crowds making hungry demands. Jesus clearly saw that his apostles needed rest and it was for this reason he suggested they make a get away.
We live a lifestyle nowadays where time has become telescoped. We are surrounded by devices and modes of transport designed to save us time, yet we are left with a horrible feeling that somehow, instead of creating more time we have simple ended up living in a fast lane. We work faster, travel faster and eat faster. We rush to fill our lives with more work and yet more work still. We take work home with us from the office and even take our work on holiday with us. Retreating from the world is more important now than ever. We all need time to recharge our batteries both physically and spiritually. We all need time to slow down and decide where our priorities really lie.