Trying to get away from it all… and failing.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 July

Sometimes we need to take a break from ministry… if people will let us.

Mark 6.30-34 • Matthew 14.12-14 • Luke 9.10-11 • John 6.1-4.

The bit where Jesus sent out his students to proclaim God’s kingdom and cure the sick, and where Jesus had them feed an audience of 5,000, were placed right next to one another in two of the synoptic gospels. Namely Mark and Luke.

Mark 6.30-31 KWL
30 Jesus’s students were gathered together to see him,
and reported everything to him—whatever they did, whatever they taught.
31 Jesus told them, “Come, by yourselves, to a place in the wilds. Stop for a little bit.”
For many people were coming and going, and they hadn’t time to even eat.
Luke 9.10 KWL
Returning, the apostles detailed for Jesus all they did.
Taking them, he withdrew with them to a town called Beit Sayid.

The reason they’re right next to one another? Because Jesus was training his students to be his apostles and minister on his behalf. With that came how to minister. And when he sends us to minister apostle-style, feeding the 5,000 is one of the ways in which he wants us to do so: Feed the hungry!

There are those Christians who figure our only job is to tell people about the kingdom—not demonstrate the kingdom by doing good deeds in Jesus’s name. Tell, not show. It’s a warped mindset, but I grew up among people of this mindset: They don’t actually love their neighbors, and this is how they weasel out of doing anything for ’em, contrary to Jesus’s teachings. Yeah, they need to get saved.

But after you’ve spent a bit of time intensively ministering to people, you do need to take a break. Get your Sabbath rest. Too many ministers work all week long: Saturday night services, Sunday morning services, and then it’s back to the usual workday ministries. They take no days off, then burn out. Jesus is the LORD who commanded Israel to take a break every week; he understands the value of rest. Don’t work yourself to death, even if your works are good works. Take a day!

Christians don’t always catch how Jesus sending his kids on a mission, is immediately followed by feeding 5,000. Because most of us aren’t in the habit of sitting down to read gospels all the way through. We break ’em up into daily readings, separate the stories from one another, read them without the previous story fresh in our minds, and don’t catch any of the context. Then people like me point out these fairly obvious facts, and Christians go, “Wow, I never realized that.” Yeah, well, stop reading it the way you’ve been reading it. You’re missing more than you realize.

Mini-rant aside: So, three gospels emphasize how Jesus took his students away for a brief rest. Problem is, they couldn’t catch a break. The crowds found out where Jesus had gone and went to see him. They had sick people and wanted ’em cured. Or they heard rumors Jesus might be Messiah, and wanted to see for themselves, and had a few days free ’cause they were getting ready to go to Jerusalem for Passover (no that’s not speculation; it’s bible Jn 6.4), so they took a detour to check him out.

So much for rest time.

The other gospels’ setting.

Two of the gospels set the story after Jesus’s students come back from their mission; two don’t. Matthew has it take place right after Jesus gets the bad news of Antipas Herod executing John the baptist.

Matthew 14.12-13 KWL
12 Approaching, John’s students carried off his body and buried him.
They went to report it to Jesus.
13 Hearing them, Jesus left there in a boat for a place in the wilds with his students.
Hearing of this, crowds from the city followed him on foot.

So it sounds like Jesus was secluding himself to go mourn.

Those who wanna synchronize the gospels, say Jesus was both taking the students away from a break, and taking some time for himself to mourn. That’s plausible.

This brings up yet another failing we Christians tend to have: When we’re in ministry, and something happens where we need some personal time, we don’t always take it. We figure the ministry needs to come first: Family and mental health second. It’s not wise, but it is all too common. It doesn’t follow Jesus’s example though.

As for John, these events take place after Jesus cured a sickly man at a pool in Jerusalem, and after teaching what this meant. That incident took place when Jesus was in Jerusalem for one of the feasts, Jn 5.1 and there were three feasts Jesus (and all Israeli men) were expected to attend: Pesakh/“Passover,” Shavuot/“Weeks,” and Sukkot/“Tents.” Ex 34.23 These feasts take place in mid-Nisan (end of March), early Sivan (mid-May), and mid-Tishrei (end of September). There’s six months between Tents and Passover, so there’s a gap between the stories of at least half a year. If not years.

John 6.1-4 KWL
1 After these things, Jesus went cross the Galilean lake (or Tiberias).
2 A large crowd followed Jesus so they could see the “signs” he did for the unwell.
3 Jesus went up the hill and sat down there with his students.
4 It was near Passover, the Judean feast.

As you notice, John doesn’t say what Jesus’s motive was for crossing the lake. Only the crowds’ motive for wanting to see Jesus. They wanted to watch him cure people. Some probably wanted to see a spectacle. Others thought Jesus might be the End Times prophet, as John later indicates. Jn 6.14

Y’know, when you minister to others, and the Holy Spirit empowers you to do any sort of supernatural thing—he makes you able to prophesy, or lets you cure the sick—be prepared for hangers-on who only wanna see the miracles. They won’t necessarily be there to learn about Jesus, or follow him any better, as John made clear in the rest of his sixth chapter. They just want a show.

All the more reason we shouldn’t burn ourselves out trying to minister nonstop.

Compassion for the crowds.

The Galilean sea.

We don’t know where Jesus launched from, for the gospels don’t say. We only know where he landed: Beit Sayid (KJV “Bethsaida”), on the northeast corner of the Galilee’s lake. If he left his home base of Kfar Nahum (KJV “Capernaum”) you can see how people might figure they could run to Beit Sayid a whole lot quicker than a boat could sail or paddle there.

’Cause that’s what the people did. They might have known this as Jesus’s usual hangout, because Simon Peter, Andrew, and Philip were all from Beit Sayid. Jn 1.44 Then again, they could’ve just followed the boat from the beach. Don’t need to take a shortcut or anything.

Mark 6.32-33 KWL
32 They went away in the boat, by themselves, to the wilds, 33 and people saw them going away.
Many recognized Jesus, ran together from every city, and followed on foot. They got there before him.
Matthew 14.13 KWL
Hearing them, Jesus left there in a boat for a place in the wilds with his students.
Hearing of this, crowds from the city followed him on foot.
Luke 9.10-11 KWL
10 Returning, the apostles detailed for Jesus all they did.
Taking them, he withdrew with them to a town called Beit Sayid.
11A Knowing this, the crowds followed Jesus.

And it’s possible the students saw this crowd following along the shore… and realized they weren’t gonna get away from them: They weren’t going straight across the lake. So when they landed, of course the crowds were there, waiting for Jesus.

Despite everything I just said about the importance of taking time for yourself, Jesus decided to postpone that time for a few hours and minister to the crowds anyway. Because sometimes people just plain need our help, and “You don’t understand; this is my day off” is a sucky excuse for not helping people. It’s why Jesus cured people on Sabbath. We definitely need to take our Sabbaths—but at the same time, we ought not lose our sense of compassion, and abandon those with real needs.

And even though this wasn’t the literal Sabbath, but Jesus’s personal rest time, he recognized real needs among the people. So he taught ’em anyway.

Mark 6.34 KWL
Disembarking, Jesus saw many crowds and had compassion for them:
They were like sheep which had no pastor. He began to teach them many things.
Matthew 14.14 KWL
Disembarking, Jesus saw many crowds and had compassion for them:
He cured their sick.
Luke 9.11 KWL
11B He accepted them and spoke with them about God’s kingdom.
Those who needed healing, he cured.

Notice Mark and Matthew begin with the very same words: “Disembarking, Jesus saw many crowds and had compassion for them.” But the authors chose to emphasize different things: Mark points out Jesus taught ’em, and Matthew that Jesus cured them. (Luke mentions both.)

More people tend to remember the way Mark put it: “They were like sheep which had no pastor.” Or shepherd. Some people know what a sheep-herder or rancher’s job entails, but more of us tend to overlay our ideas about what Christian church leaders do with their congregations, and miss Mark’s point: The people were like wild animals. Nobody was watching out for them, taking care of them, training them, treating them, loving them. Or informing them about the Father’s love for them.

No doubt Jesus went through some of the points of his Sermon on the Mount, and filled them in on how God’s kingdom works. And of course cured their sick, as Matthew and Luke state. Feeding them comes next.