Having sent his apostles on an apostolic mission to preach the gospel and to call people to repentance, Jesus welcomes them back into his presence. They return to him after a successful mission of ministering to the needs of the people by healing, anointing and freeing people from their infirmities, weaknesses and burdens of sin. After a job well done, Jesus invites his apostles to spend a little personal time with him. Jesus says to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” (Mk 6,31) He offers them some time alone with him where they can withdraw from the great crowds of people with all of their demands and rest awhile in his presence. As disciples of the Lord, we find our rest in Jesus and we draw our life from him. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus calls his disciples to rest in him: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11,28ff)
The goal of our life is not to work and endlessly carry the burden of labor, struggling to make ends meet. We are not just a cog in a machine. The goal of life is to rest in God and to draw our life from him. In this time of rest, we do not focus on what we have to “do” but rather we take time to address who we are meant to “be”. God is not a harsh taskmaster who is ceaselessly demanding more and more from us, rather, he is a loving Father who is always seeking to gather his children around him and bless them with an abundance of life. Like Jesus reminds Martha, our time spent with the Lord is not a time to busy ourselves with the many concerns of the world but rather to sit with him, experience his endless love and learn from him the way to eternal life. Jesus is our place of rest and he is the Good Shepherd who leads us to a place where, “I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.” (Ps 23,1ff) God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah and promises: “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow.” (Jer 23,4) The disciplesattempt to withdraw from the demands of ministry is not entirely successful as the people find them and appeal to the compassion of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who sees them as “sheep without a shepherd” and he spends some time teaching them and inviting them to also share in his rest.
Everyone needs times of rest. Rest allows us to rediscover our humanity. Time on retreat is time to renew our interior harmony. It is a time to rediscover relationships with family and friends and to remember the importance of our communal life. Our time of retreat is often family time in which we get together with family members and have time to talk, to reflect upon our lives and to share our hopes for the future. We renew our relationships with one another and reestablish our communication. We are not simply machines of production, driven by demands and the needs of others. We are persons in relationship, like the Holy Trinity, who need time to share love, time and intimacy with others. We are not fed only by material things in this world but we have spiritual needs that need to be addressed and we must also nurture our spiritual lives and our need for human companionship and communion.
Time away for retreat is not meant to be a flight from reality or a running away from other people in our lives. We are not escaping from our daily duties or putting aside our vocation to care for others. This privileged time is not a retreat into self-indulgence or selfish behaviors. Jesus takes time during his retreat with the apostles to minister to the needs of those he meets in this deserted place to which he has retreated. Jesus is always the Good Shepherd who has compassion for others.
In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II reflected upon this gospel passage: “In today’s often frenetic and competitive society, in which the logic of production and profit prevail, often at the expense of the individual, it is still necessary for everyone to be able to enjoy adequate periods of rest, in which to regain their energy and at the same time restore the right inner balance. Vacations, holidays, must be wisely used in order to benefit the individual and the family through contact with nature, tranquility, the opportunity to foster greater family harmony, good reading and healthy recreational activities; above all, through the possibility of spending more time in prayer, in contemplation and in listening to God.”
Jesus is inviting us all to rest awhile and to renew our strength is his loving presence. He has “many things” to teach us about living the abundant life. Every Sunday is a day of rest in which we find our rest in God and renew our spirit and our strength. Take time to rest in the Lord!