Words of THE WORD
Sunday of the Sixteenth Week

“See, I have God for my help. The Lord sustains my soul. I will sacrifice to You with willing heart, and praise Your Name, O Lord, for It is good. (Psalm 54:6, 8)

Show favor, O Lord, to Your servants
and mercifully increase the gifts of Your grace,
that, made fervent in hope, faith and charity,
they may be ever watchful in keeping Your commands.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever.

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. (Psalm 23:1, Mass).

The apostles gathered together (συνάγονται, sunagontai) with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place (ἔρημον, eremon) and rest (ἀναπαύσασθε, anapausasthe) a while." People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place (ἔρημον, eremon). People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.(Mark 6:30-34).”

When last we left Jesus’ apostles, He sent them out to “preach repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them (Mark 6:12-13).” In the meantime, the Evangelist Mark records the events that eventually culminated with the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Even though these details are not proclaimed this Sunday, the message of the Baptist’s fidelity and the cost of that fidelity is integral to the apostles’ mission. When the scene shifts back to the apostles, they “gathered together (συνάγονται, sunagontai),” “reported (ἀπήγγειλαν, apeggeilan)” and were led “to a deserted place [to] rest (ἀναπαύσασθε, avapausasthe) a while.”

It would seem only natural for the apostles to report “all they had done and taught.” After all, they were sent out by Jesus Who gave specific instructions regarding attire and the work they were to do. The fact that they gathered – or more precisely, how they gathered is noteworthy here. The Greek verb συνάγω (sunago) can be translated “to gather” as it appears in this Sunday’s proclamation and it can also be translated “to cause to gather.” In this sense, ‘the gathering’ is the result of something (or here, Someone) else enabling the action to happen. In the case of the apostles, this is not only their common sense suggesting that it is a good idea to fill Jesus in on what happened. “To cause to gather” suggests that Jesus in the One Who gathers the apostles together. This sense of Another gathering others together is quite consistent with the background of Jesus’ Public Ministry. The Greek verb συνάγω (sunago) is part of the root family that includes the Greek noun συναγωγή (synagoge - synagogue). The synagogue is the place where the assembly (Hebrew, qahal) gathers. The qahal is the assembly that is convoked by God’s word, God’s summoning together. The point here is that the initiative lies clearly with God, not humanity. The coming together ‘to report’ or for that matter the coming together to worship is not of human origin. The ‘gathering’ is a response to a word and work that precedes the action and in essence makes the gathering possible. Thus more is afoot with a biblical gathering than meets the eye.

Likewise, Jesus’ word to the apostles to “rest a while” is interesting as well. The Marcan text gives at this point, no indication that the apostles expressed or felt any need for rest. We are not told at this time anything about the physical or mental weariness of the disciples. In fact, it appears from the standpoint of the text that Jesus’ response to their report is “rest a while.” The Evangelist Mark records no questions posed by Jesus to the apostles back-in from mission, only the reporting of the apostles. “Rest” is Jesus’ response to what they said and did on mission. Here again, a Greek verb (ἀναπαύσασθε, anarausasthe) can be translated “rest” as it appears in this Sunday’s proclamation. It may also be translated “to cause to rest.” Similar to the examination of συνάγω (sunago), “rest” is not an initiative of the apostles. Someone else is causing them “to rest.” True, we learn shortly about the “people … in great” coming from all directions and making it impossible for Jesus and the apostles to eat. There is more to the “rest” that Jesus causes than simply responding to weariness.

The Greek verb “to rest,” ἀναπαύω (anapauo), certainly conveys a commonly understood experience of refreshment or ‘a break from the toil and drudgery of work.’ Relaxing and relief are also common ways of translating ἀναπαύω (anapauo). Yet throughout the Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition, ἀναπαύω (anapauo) conveys far more than physical or mental rejuvenation. “Resting” is a way of being, a way of existing in the Divine Presence (cf. Psalm 95). This “resting” is always a gift, not a reality that humanity can effect or cause on his or her own. Much more than mere refreshment or relief from the toil of work, Divine Rest is not only re-creative in the sense of Genesis, but because of where the “resting” occurs for the apostles, it goes to the core of their identity bound with and to the Person, Jesus. The desert (ἔρημος, eremos) – the place of rest that Jesus gathers His apostles – is not a way of avoiding the crowds and getting some ‘r and r.’ The desert is not a vacation or hiding place. The desert, consonant with Israel’s pivotal experience, is not just a place but an experience whereby God bestows and renews one’s proper identity. Just as Israel became the chosen people of God in the desert and are forever known by that name, so also the desert in Jesus’ life, the life of His Apostles and the life of all His disciples through the ages are drawn to the desert by the Holy Spirit that the Father may bestow and renew one’s identity as a child of God.