This article is a reflection on part of Mark 6 (verses 7-13 and 30-44). The first passage is the mission of the twelve given by Jesus. The second passage is the multiplication of the loaves. Not much of that is reflected on. Most of it is good to have in mind, though (context).
This gospel passage is about manhood, womanhood. We see here the apostles of the Lord listened with immediacy: “Jesus said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.’ ” […] “And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves.” It is as if they were eager to say yes to Him. Even before that (verses 7-13) we read of their complete obedience to Jesus’ commission: “[he] began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.” And you know what? They did: “So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.” This is a true apostle, a true disciple: one who follows Jesus immediately. The true and intentional disciple is one who obeys, who lets go and moves forward. This characteristic of “true” discipleship was clearly manifested in their decision and in this passage.
This gospel therefore convicts us. How? The response of Jesus’ followers is contrasted with our own response. How fickle are we? We easily justify our lack of commitment with no substantial reason. We say, “uh, well, yes but, you see, I have to, and then…” Think of the time when a prompting came to mind or heart. Was your own response like that? This gospel is sharp. It reveals to us our own lack of fidelity to one another. It most especially reveals our lack of fidelity toward the Lord.
Who wants a fickle and lethargic friend anyway? Who hires someone who does not get the job done? Do you really believe you are disciplined enough and exempt from this conviction? We cannot only criticize the fickle man, the fickle woman. This gospel reveals our lack of fidelity, yes. It also reveals the “how to” deal with it and fix it. Read again, “come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest awhile” (verse 31). This is important to notice: he tells them this after ministry, after the preaching, healing, and deliverance. He tells them this after they share with him what they had done (verse 30).
Stay with those two verses a little longer. It is like the little boy or girl sharing all that happened at school that day. The father is eager to hear and listen. The father should also be attentive to the voice of his child. When he hears the fatigue and stress, or despair in the voice of the child, he should act in wisdom. He received wisdom given him through the grace of matrimony and parenthood (Side note: if you are a parent and think you lack wisdom, read James 1:5-8). With that grace and wisdom from matrimony and parenthood, he will see the child present but fatigued, willing but weak. The parent’s proper response to this is what Jesus said to his own disciples: come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest awhile. This “come away,” “rest awhile,” is one of the experiences of prayer.
Notice that he said “alone” to the apostles. Jesus said alone, yet they were together as apostles and with him too. Notice: alone is not isolated but in recognition and attention to Him who is always present. Can that work, being alone-together? Yes. Prayer is not an isolated and escapist experience of lamenting everyone except myself. No, prayer is some kind of shared togetherness, solidarity, empathy, com-passion. Prayer is the one-word answer to the fickle person, to him or her who is not totally a man or woman of integrity.
How? How does prayer correct infidelity, a lack of commitment, and a tendency to not decide? By this: prayer plants oneself “by the stream,” it roots someone in something other than himself. Prayer reorders and re-centers a person. A lack of prayer begets fickleness, idleness, lethargy, stuff life: “uh, well, yes but, I can’t because, it’s just that…” Gross! Don’t be like that. Don’t play like that. Don’t live like that. Look: if you can at least admit your infidelity, you will make much progress in prayer, in life, in grace, in virtue. Again, prayer corrects someone by reordering and re-centering him or her.
Now, what is it or who is it that I am being re-centered in? For example, if prayer is moving from one drug to another, that is not helpful. I don’t care if it’s a less “bad” drug than what you were doing before; it doesn’t help the attachment and disordered affection. If prayer is moving from one dramatic experience to another, that is not helpful. Prayer cannot keep you from maturing. Prayer is that growth of maturity coming to completeness and fulfillment in your interior life. If your treat prayer like a drug, you will be unsatisfied when you don’t have pretty feelings. If you treat prayer like a means to an end, you will tire yourself. You will tire yourself because that kind of treatment of prayer is self-centered, not God-centered.
The Incarnate Son of God is who prayer directs us to, roots us in, and centers us in. The bible uses language like “a deer that longs for running streams,” soil that is tilled, and a foundation upon which we are built. Why do you think baptism uses water? Baptism nurtures and brings the person’s soul to life. Baptism is not a cute and symbolic drama, the sacrament is water to our souls, the sacrament is the encounter with Jesus himself, and with the entire Triune God (Side note: Romans 6:1-14 for some awesome theology on baptism and its effects). You know how else we are brought to life and kept alive? The Eucharist. Jesus uses bread and wine to sustain us in a very literal and spiritual way. The Lord Jesus feeds us with his very Self. What else can ultimately sustain you or me, but Him who upholds all creation by his own power? Come on, if you were a soulless animal or plant, I would let you settle for less substantial food and drink. But that is not the case for you or me.
Let’s bring it back. Prayer corrects the fickle man. Prayer renews our fidelity to commitment and discipline. We have to let Jesus speak to us in prayer. We must listen.
That is the first point: prayer corrects your infidelity and fickle heart. Therefore, pray.
Now, as good and necessary as prayer is, it is tempting to treat prayer like an exclusive and prolonged party where everyone has to wear fancy pants. This gospel passage also teaches us about that temptation. Point two can wait until next time. Until then, pray and do not lose heart. We have one week left until Easter.