Do you have places to visit when you are weary and stressed? Staying at the place helps you relieve stress, inspires creativity, besides helping you bond with yourself, your family and loved ones. One of the places for me is my home in Korea. There are my family, familiar paths and old friends, my room, things that I used to use and my memories. As you may know, I was heading to my home on 23rd of April by myself. At that time, my body was weak. My mind was full of fears and anxiety. My soul was looking for a place to rest even though I felt that I didn’t do many things. Unlike me, in today’s gospel reading, Jesus’ disciples are sent to a place for rest after achieving many goals.
The disciples who returned from the mission reported to Jesus everything they had done and taught. Their work can be summed up in making other people’s lives abundant. They showed that a new life based on friendship and hospitality is possible for those who suffer from life and are determined. They drove out demons that prevented people from living in unity of character. And they healed a lot of patients who were weighed down by poverty and disease. So, Jesus’ disciples must have been somewhat excited after their devotion to the new world. They may be obsessed with feeling that they can change the world quickly. But Jesus spoke calmly, contrary to the excitement of his disciples.
"Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while."
The gospel of Mark depicts that ‘many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat’. While rest after hard work seems natural, Jesus’ intentions to invite his disciples to a quiet place seem rather complex. He seems to put the brakes on their enthusiasm. The full confidence and willingness to do anything might sometimes lead to bigger problems and deeper despair. People who don’t know how to relax are likely to be oppressive to others. They destroy relationships by forcing their passion to others.
Jesus has led his disciples to a place of isolation to give them a chance to reflect on themselves. Rest or step back is an essential element of the way of life in Jesus. He has stayed in the people and worked hard to enrich their lives. But he always visited a quiet place and stayed alone. That time alone in front of God is the time to tune the complexity of mind according to divine will and to fill his weary body with peace of God. So, it's not only a time to look back on what we have done. It's also a time to humbly accept our limitations. People who acknowledge and accept their own vulnerability are generous to others. Because we know we are also incredibly vulnerable.
I don't know how grateful I am to Jesus for calling his disciples to an isolated place. Artists who paint large paintings will paint with knives and brushes, then step back and look at the paintings. They look at whether the part is in harmony with other parts. It's not step back. Rather, it's an attempt to harmonize with the whole.
Two weeks in Korea was a time for me to ask where I am standing here and now. Since started my candidature, I have struggled between Korean culture and Australian culture, between Korean Church and Uniting Church, and between my theological background and challenges in theological formation for the ministry. I have tried to integrate those aspects harmoniously as our Uniting Church has sought the unity in diversity. It is not easy at all. I was often confused and felt that there was nowhere I can belong to. The loss of my grandmother this time shook whole my foundation like family, relationships and memories. Furthermore, my understanding and experiences of Korean Church also was challenged while participating in funeral procedure by the church. Since back to Australia, I was in the darkest valley for 6 weeks. I felt I was alone. However, it’s not at all. God opened my eyes and mind toward people again and led me to share my story with others. People were willing to take the time to listen to me. It helped me to find out again where God calls me for.
A deserted place for disciples doesn’t have to be a place of absolute solitude. It can be a community that people who put down the “ego” get together. With Jesus' heart, the disciples are living in a clear vision of the new heaven and new earth. So we can be happy just to see each other. It is a charging station for peace where there are people who embrace their little souls and faults with love. So, the deserted place is a space that we write down our story together even though we have different life contexts and stories. As we gather together and have a couple of stories, and share joys and sorrows, we will become one body and become part of God’s salvation story. When we speak and listen to each other with respect and mutual learning attitude, we will see how amazing and varied God’s work is. When we open our hearts to our sisters and brothers with trust and love, our souls are lifted up. When we accept the difference and show patience, our souls begin to mature.
Through this community, God’s salvation story becomes richer in us, through us, for us, and for others. For this, we have a strong foundation. Wherever Jesus is, he is the person who has always tried to enter the community and become one. Through his self- giving love, Jesus becomes the master of the place where he is staying and makes the place true and abundant. Jesus was always the same when he was in the court of Pilate, when he met the sick, when he met the lonely, and when he met the hungry. Despite the change of situation, his centre of heart wasn’t shaken. The Lord invites us to such a life.
Mark says his disciples could not rest even in a remote place because many people rushed to the place for their needs. How did the disciples feel when their holidays were interrupted? They must be annoyed. However, Jesus had compassion when he saw the crowd like sheep without shepherds because he knew that their life conditions were terribly bad. People were persecuted by the Roman government. So they suffered from poverty and could not receive proper treatment for their illnesses. Above all, they couldn't even have hope for the future. They were desperate. So, Jesus welcomed them warmly and taught them in many ways. Then, hope lit up in people's hearts. As you know, Jesus asked his disciples to provide them with food. Although the disciples may have been annoyed, the miracle of sharing brought them to experience the hospitality, generosity and love and care of God. The people who gathered together clearly saw how a new world could open up. The crowd became no longer disruptors, but witnesses who tasted the new world and shared their dreams about the kingdom of God.
I think about the great joy that Jesus ' disciples had. The fullness of life given to those who are willing to put down their own interests for others can in some sense be the biggest break of all. My grandmother always gave up on herself and tried to provide a resting place for the whole family. Rest is necessary for everyone. But sometimes meeting the needs of people in need can be a real break. May the place you visit be a deserted place where you can meet the Lord our shepherd and enjoy the joy of the community. And I hope that we will gain a greater rest by responding to someone's demands whenever possible. Amen