Sunday Note: Practicing Compassion

Text: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

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When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
 

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Note: Practicing Compassion


Jesus’ disciples return from their journeys to different towns, where they proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was near and that the people should repent, healed the sick, and casted out demons. They are excited to tell the amazing stories of their missions to Jesus, and they are exhausted. Jesus, presumably, has continued his work of preaching, teaching, and healing, and he, too, is in need of rest. 

There are necessary, healthy rhythms that we must honor or we will feel it in our bodies, our minds, and our souls. One of the most important of these rhythms is work and rest. When we only work, and go past our capacity to do all of the things, we feel it. We get sick, we can’t sleep well, we change our diets, we can’t focus, we can’t think clearly, we are irritable, we feel it further in our bones, we lack connection with the Divine, we lack deep connection with others— our bodies and minds and souls must have rest. Real rest. A quiet space. Equal and opposite reactions occur when we don’t have meaningful work. Not necessarily a job or career or school in our context, but work, purpose, a doing, a happening— something that moves us from being still, quiet in ourselves to action and connection in the world. 

This rhythm of work and rest for Jesus and his disciples is interrupted in this week’s lectionary text. If you are a parent, you know this feeling. You just need some sleep, but your child wakes. If you leave your email notifications on, you likely know this feeling. You sit in the quiet, pause for a moment, and *ding* an email. You’re body is trained to respond. There are a thousand ways we experience these moments— we sit for a minute, we start to read, we go for a walk, we go on vacation— and whether it is the external need of others or the internal inability to quiet down, we are interrupted by work, by purpose, by doing.

Jesus’ response is unpopular in our current context. He and his disciples are on their way to be by themselves, to rest in a quiet, solitary place, for just a moment to be away from the crowds and away from their work. But people see them traveling to this remote place, and they run to meet them. A crowd gathers, work shows up. Jesus has compassion on the crowd, and he goes back to work. It is, honestly, difficult for me to write about because it pushes against what I have been told— guard your rest, practice Sabbath, prioritize self-care. If you believe these things, as well, please do not stop reading. I do not believe this text is to say we ought not rest, but it reorients our rest by placing in front of us the question: Why do we rest? It reorients our practice of rest to be in line with Jesus’ way of compassion.

Practicing rest and rhythms of work and Sabbath is for the sake of compassion. Compassion requires that we are fully present to another person, that we are fully present to a situation, to a people. Rest gives us the energy for this, and, perhaps more importantly, it is the practice of compassion to ourselves. It is the practice of being fully present to self. It is a practice of loving ourselves. It is a practice of loving God, whose image we bear. Rest is a practice of compassion for the sake of compassion.It primes us to be present to the needs and the person and the situations of others. 

And here is where it gets tricky. Sometimes our rhythm of rest will be interrupted by the needs, the situations, and the presence of others. Sometimes our rhythms— our good, thoughtful, life-giving plans— will be thrown out of whack by other people’s issues. Likely, you have experienced some version of this in the past week. And Jesus reminds his disciples and us through his reaction to this crowd that rhythms and practices and plans are for the sake of compassion. They cease to be good once they legalistically keep us from loving others. This is why Jesus chose to heal on the Sabbath, scandalizing the religious elites.

Practice rest. Practice self-care. Practice Sabbath. Know your limits. But also, know that the compassion you cultivate for yourself is meant to expand outward to others. Do not let your rhythms and practices and plans and boundaries harden your heart. Let them be entry points into the love of God, which is co-suffering, sacrificial, compassionate love.

Jesus and his disciples rested after they dismissed the crowds later in the day. Their work and their rest was all for the sake of compassion. May we go and do likewise.

Amen.