February 5, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Agatha, virgin and martyr

Working for Jesus must have been very difficult, if our Gospel today is any indication. Jesus says to the Apostles, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” I have heard many people use this verse to say that even if our work is very important, we need to find time to get away from it all and rest. This sounds like a good interpretation of Jesus’ words, but what about his actions?

The rest that the disciples get is in the boat going from one place on the Sea of Galilee to another. Of course, one should not imagine a cruise ship or even a sailing ship. They must have rowed slowly since the crowd beats them to the deserted place. When Jesus sees the crowd there, he does not tell the Apostles to turn the boat around and make for some other deserted place. When he gets off the boat and sees the vast crowd, he does not get right back on the boat. He begins teaching the crowd, and he continues into the evening, when he feeds them all and the disciples serve as waiters to 5000 families.

This is why I say that it must have been difficult working for Jesus: his suggestion is nice, but his follow-through is terrible. We have to ask, why? The usual reasons do not suffice. Jesus did not make a bad decision either by suggesting the vacation or by delaying it. He does not have a weak will that his mind is easily changed. Jesus usually knows the future, so it seems probable that he knew that the retreat was not going to happen right away. Peter, James, and John eventually do go on top of a mountain with Jesus, where Jesus is transfigured before their eyes, but more than a week later.

If there is a lesson to be drawn from Jesus’ actions it would be that we should plan a time-off, but not be too attached to it. Parents know this fact intimately; they often must continue to exert themselves when no reasonable employer would make someone work. It should be no different for those who serve God as apostles. But if we, whether apostles or parents, are going to live our lives in this unselfish way, we will need help. We will need the energy given by the Holy Spirit to all those who are tired.