Jesus Needs A Break!

by David B Smith - Date: 2007-04-17 - Word Count: 2097 Share This!

Depictions of Christ suffering on the cross are common in Christian literature and iconography. Few though are the depictions of Jesus walking around exhausted, during his earthly ministry.
Yet the tiredness of Jesus is seen commonly in the Gospels, and is clear in Mark chapter 7.

I preached this sermon on the occasion of a baptism. Celebrating the beginning of someone's Christian walk provided a positive context in which to reflect upon the periods of exhaustion that mark the path of discipleship.

Our Gospel reading this morning is from Mark chapter 7, where we come across a Jesus who is tired - tired, I think, to the point of exhaustion.

This is not the sort of depiction of Jesus that is given much attention by the church. I've never seen a stained-glass window with an image of Jesus trying to sleep. We see Him suffering on the cross, we see Him doing miracles, acting with compassion, preaching, healing, etc., but I don't think I've ever seen an artistic representation of Jesus trying to get away from people so that he can get some rest, and yet it's recorded more than once in the Gospels.

I don't think it's just an accidental oversight either, that we don't give attention to this. I suspect that the church historically has not wanted to acknowledge the tiredness of Jesus. As early as the second century, people were coming up with stories about Jesus that suggested that he never got tired and never needed to sleep. The same group suggested indeed that he never really ate or drank either, but only pretended to do so lest He scare his disciples!

The Gospel stories though go to some lengths to make clear to us that Jesus both ate and drank, and that He certainly needed rest. Indeed, if you know your New Testament, you know that on at least one occasion He was found to be asleep in the middle of a storm at sea, when everybody really should have been awake! Such stories would suggest that Jesus was capable of sleeping really, really soundly, presumably because He got really, really tired.

In Mark Chapter 7, at any rate, Jesus is tired, and if you read between the lines, you pick up that it is not only that Jesus is suffering the effect of long hours of intense interaction with an enormous number of people. He appears to also be dealing with the fact that his cousin, John the Baptist, has just been executed by that scoundrel King Herod.

Of course we can't get inside the head of Jesus to know how this really affected him, but we do know that Jesus loved John. Jesus said of His cousin "no man, born of woman, was greater than John!" Yet Herod, you will remember, had presented the head of John the Baptist to his daughter-in-law as a dinner gift.

We know that Jesus loved John, and we know that when Jesus heard about John's death, He said to His disciples, "Come away by yourselves, to a lonely place, and rest a while" (6:31). Evidently it affected Him deeply.

If you've been following the story through Mark's Gospel though, you'll know that Jesus' attempt to find a lonely place on that occasion was frustrated by a large crowd that managed to beat him to the remote location that He was heading for. Even though Jesus deliberately got into a boat in order to get away from the crowd, that crowd accurately guessed where Jesus was going, and was waiting for him there when he got there!

That story was in Chapter 6, and Jesus, we are told, had compassion on those people. He worked with them, He taught them, and He fed them!

And then He made a second attempt to get away from them - even to get away from His disciples this time - sending them off in the boat while He Himself went 'into the hills' to pray. But it was the distress of His disciples on that occasion - who were having another calamity at sea - that forced Jesus to postpone that time-out.

And so we come across Jesus in our Gospel reading today, making a third attempt to try to get some rest for Himself. And we're told that He heads off into the region of Tyre and Sidon - part of the region of Southern Lebanon, if we go by today's map.

Then as now, Southern Lebanon would not have been a popular vacation spot for well-to-do Jews. It's point of attraction could only have been that it was remote and that it was the sort of place where no self-respecting Jew would follow Him. And yet a local woman finds him, and asks Him to heal her daughter. But Jesus tells her to go away. Indeed, he tells her to go away in rather strong terms, apparently referring to her as a dog!

Now I don't want to dwell too long on that detail today. Some preachers see it as their role to sort of apologise for the way Jesus treats this woman or, at least to explain Jesus' words in a way that makes them seem less offensive. I'm conscious of the fact that the Gospel writer didn't see any need to do that.

Maybe that's because Mark's original readers would have expected a Jewish man to treat a Lebanese woman like that anyway? Maybe? However we understand it - whether we assume that Jesus wasn't actually being offensive or whether we think that Jesus was testing the woman or whether we think it was just Jesus in His exhaustion, pleading for some peace, we know how the story turns out. The woman persists in her relationship with Jesus, and her persistence is rewarded - 'go home sister. Your daughter is going to be fine!'

Now, I'll leave you to reflect further on the relationship between Jesus and this strong, assertive Lebanese woman, who shows both audacity and faith. The point I wish to focus on today is rather how this interaction with the Lebanese woman puts an end to any hope Jesus had of using the region of Tyre and Sidon as a place to recuperate, for He appears to move out of that region directly after the woman's daughter is healed.

We are not told exactly why, but an educated guess would be that this healing had a similar effect to the one that immediately followed it - where Jesus brought back the hearing of the deaf man after sticking His fingers in the man's ears and putting spit on his tongue. The result of that healing, we are told, was that Jesus became the talk of the town again.

"He has done all things well", they said. "He even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak. He has done all things well!" And so the crowds gather again around Him, and the hope of any genuine respite for Jesus vanishes.

The Lebanese woman's testimony would have had the same effect I think. Either that happened or Jesus didn't wait around to find out. The woman's daughter was healed. How could she have remained silent. "He has done all things well!", she would have said, as those who come after her say, "He has done all things well!"

And so our passage this morning ends with this rather bizarre depiction of Jesus, standing in the middle of a crowd of very excited people who are proclaiming His greatness, while He is pleading with them not to make a big deal of it all.

"Jesus ordered the people not to speak of it (ie. the healing) to anyone; but the more he ordered them not to, the more they told it." (Mark 7:36) They said, "He has done all things well".

So Jesus never got that break? No, He didn't!

Did He need a break? Yes.

Did He get it? No.

Why didn't He get it? Because, it seems, He who had the ability to heal diseases, cast out demons, calm the raging seas and feed the five thousand, did NOT have the ability to stop people from talking about him.

When I was in Primary school, I had a teacher who was able to quieten a whole room of raging children with only a few words. She'd say, "I want to hear a pin drop", and within moments, there was complete silence. This seems to be the sort of ability that the Lord Jesus did NOT have!

We're told that 'He ordered them to keep quiet, but the more he ordered them, the louder they became!' Fascinating, isn't it, that He who calmed the raging see could NOT calm an excited crowd! "He has done all things well" they said, and then continued to carry on!

St Paul says (in 2 Corinthians 3:17) that 'where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty'. I want to suggest to you a variation on that verse, based on today's reading, namely, that 'where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is activity'.

Wherever you see Jesus moving in the stories of the New Testament, you see a fair degree of pandemonium following in His wake! People are being healed, communities are being stirred up, political rulers are getting upset, and everyone is talking excitedly!

'The wind blows where it will' says Jesus, 'and so it is with the Spirit' (John 3). The Spirit of God blows into town in the person of Jesus and that town is never the same.

Whether it's His hometown of Nazareth or the bustling metropolis of Jerusalem or somewhere out in the sticks in Southern Lebanon, wherever Jesus goes, there is healing, there is new life, there is turmoil, there is controversy, and there is bustling activity!

I would like to think that this is why our life here is always so chaotic!

I'm serious about this. Here I've been thinking all this time that things will settle down for us as soon as we get properly organised, and maybe that's not the root of the problem at all. Maybe the reason we can never get settled is because the Spirit of God is at work!

I keep thinking, well we just need a bit more help in the office or we just need another home group leader or we just need our finances to be a bit more stable, and then we'll be able to function smoothly and quietly, as a community, with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine!

I keep assuming that this quiet, settled lifestyle is only just around the corner. I've been waiting for it to arrive now almost every day now for the last fifteen years! Maybe it's time that I accepted the fact that it's never going to happen because it's not supposed to happen. Maybe it's time that I realised that the only way to live a quiet, settled life is to get the Spirit of God out of the picture

Where the Spirit of God is, there is activity, there is controversy, there is plenty of room for misunderstanding, pain and difficulty, because a certain degree of chaos is always part of the equation.

This probably isn't what the family of the young person we baptised this morning wanted to hear. I know that some people baptise their children in the hope that this might somehow settle them down. Well we've prayed this morning for a healthy infusion of the Spirit of God into the life of this young person so welcome to our nightmare!

OK, not exactly, but let us never make the mistake of thinking that following Jesus will result in any of us having a quieter, more comfortable life. Expect the opposite!

If you persist with Jesus, you can be guaranteed to find healing, you can be guaranteed to find community, but you can also be guaranteed to find controversy, and one other thing - you can be guaranteed that you'll get tired!

Are you tired? Yeah? That's OK. Jesus got tired too! And we do need rest. Jesus knows we do need rest. Indeed, Jesus promises us rest. But the truth is that our ultimate rest is not going to come just yet, as there are, literally today, millions of Lebanese women (amongst others) who need our support! And so I think we are going to have to accept, as Jesus did, that breaks are not always going to come as frequently as we might like.

Are you tired? Well, welcome to the world of Jesus! Welcome to the world of Christian discipleship.

To our newly baptised this morning: welcome to the roller-coaster of ministry and mission. You haven't chosen an easy path. You have chosen the path of courage, integrity, self-discipline and service.

Related Tags: christ, jesus, disciples, sleeping, demons, gospel, baptist, moments

Rev. David B. Smith(the 'Fighting Father')Parish priest, community worker,martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of three
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