Refection on Mark 6.30-34

As a parish priest I am constantly being reminded to ‘look after myself’. I am told that I should have a weekly rest day (sabbath), and that I should set aside time to read, study and pray. I am told that I should not fill every moment of every day with ‘work’, and that I should have several hours each day when I can relax. Such advice may sound like a model of sensible working practice, but … Every time I am given one of these lectures, or when I read such advice in the barrage of papers on clergy wellbeing that crop up from time to time, I think of today’s passage from Mark’s gospel.

Earlier in Mark, chapter 6, Jesus is rejected in his home town of Nazareth, then he called the twelve and began to send them out. These events are immediately followed by the account of the death of John the Baptist. And, today, the disciples returned and told him all that they had done and taught. Jesus’ response to this is to invite them to a time of rest and recuperation. Like those concerned for the wellbeing of modern clergy, he recognised their need for rest, leisure and food. But, then the crowds gathered around them once again.

As with so many modern-day clergy, Jesus was moved by the needs of those whom he came to serve. We are told that he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Those who call at our vicarages, or on our telephones or via email and text are, so very often, like the crowds who gathered around Jesus and his disciples: like sheep without a shepherd.

The need to feed and tend God’s sheep, our fellow human beings, is well documented in the gospels. But, do we always recognise that need? The providing of spiritual nourishment, refreshment and recuperation is not necessarily the responsibility of clergy alone, although that is part of their vocation within the Church! Rather than relying on the one who is ordained, we are all called to show Christ’s compassion to those in need. We are all called to set self to one side, even when we are tired and hungry, and to extend Christ’s loving and healing hand to those who are in need. 

Let us pray that we might learn to set self aside in order that we may be agents of Christ’s love in this world. Let us pray that even when we are tired and hungry we may see the greater needs of our fellow human beings. Let us pray that we may join Jesus and his disciples in providing the spiritual home they seek.