Monday, 18 November 2019
Rhythms for 2020: A Meditation on Mark 6
I could hear the steady rhythms of feet pounding on treadmills long before I saw them. Of course, I thought as I rounded the corner, it’s the first Monday in January. Everyone and her cousin is back at the gym. Guess I’ll have to wait my turn.
Another year, another list of resolutions. If you’re like me, you figure the new year is the perfect time to make some changes in your life. Hmm. What do we want to change this year? Any new priorities for you and me? What stubborn habits would I like to fix? Any new projects you want to start? Each of our questions might generate several resolutions.
Meanwhile, there’s another question underneath them all: how long will those changes actually last?
Put a pause on that. Before you and I make our list, I would like to propose a different question altogether. What rhythms would you like to establish in 2020? I’m not just looking for a different way to talk about work-life balance, though that’s a commendable goal for the juggler in each of us. No, I’m thinking of a “grace-paced” life in the words of Shona and David Murray.
I’m tuning in to the rhythms set by the eternal God to govern our lives–rhythms of day and night, spring and fall, work and Sabbath rest.
The God Who Wrote the Rhythms
The God who made us wrote the rhythms. He is the God who cares for us, the One who keeps us. “He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (Psalm 121:2b, 3).”
He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.Psalm 121:2b, 3
He is the God who stays awake, so we can sleep. He is the One who rested on the seventh day of creation–though not because he was tired. No, he set apart the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship because he knew we would need it.
Our heavenly Father is like the mother of a preschooler who keeps an eye on her 3 year old for signs of fatigue. She knows her child doesn’t want to stop playing to take his nap, but she regularly makes him stop anyway, rocking and reading to him and finally laying him down. He protests, “But I’m not tired!” Yet within minutes he is fast asleep.
The rhythms God established for us are for our good. The rhythms we establish for ourselves are a wise response.
Rhythms of Work and Rest
We’re pausing to meditate on Mark 6:30-44, when Jesus feeds a crowd of 5000 with only a few loaves and fish. That well known miracle comes right after a busy ministry trip for the twelve disciples. It had been Jesus’ idea to send them out in pairs to the surrounding villages with a very specific mission: they were to heal, cast out demons, and proclaim the kingdom. He had given them both the authority and the ability to do so.
When they returned they were like kids coming back from camp, full of amazement and high spirits and stories about their adventures. You can picture them, noisy with excitement, interrupting each other and clapping each other on the back as they shared their exploits.
Like preschoolers, they were ready to crash, but didn’t yet realize it. Jesus did, however. He knew that they had been stretched thin, and now needed him to step in like a mother and settle them down. So he interrupted their victory party with these words, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while (Mark 6:31).” Mark adds that they hadn’t even had a moment to eat.
“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”Mark 6:31a
The God Who Needed Sleep
How did Jesus know their need? From first hand experience. Having taken on our humanity in the incarnation, Jesus was, during the years of his earthly life, the God who needed sleep.
Think of it. The God who “neither slumbers or sleeps” had become the God-man who needs sleep, who actually fell asleep in the back of a rocking fishing boat on one Sea of Galilee excursion. For our sake he became the God-man who was hungry in the wilderness, and the God-man who would say, “I thirst” from the cross. Knowing weariness, Jesus felt compassion for his weary disciples, kindly inviting them to come away and rest.
But when the crowds finally caught up with him. Jesus felt compassion for them too. They needed his teaching. They were like lost sheep, with no idea of the right way to live or the right shepherd to follow. So he taught and taught and taught them “many things.” He was still teaching them when the disciples finally interrupted him.
Ahem. Can’t you picture them, tapping their watches, shuffling their feet, and finally speaking up? Ah…It’s getting pretty late. Not sure where we could get food for this mob, ah, crowd (not to mention for ourselves.) Imagine the look on their faces when he answered, “You give them something to eat (Mark 6:37a).”
Rhythms of Working Together
This is when it gets really good. Jesus has pushed them to their limits and beyond. Their answer dripped with sarcasm, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” As if they had that kind of money on them.
But Jesus didn’t roll his eyes. He simply asked what they had on hand. Their search turned up 5 loaves and 2 fish. That was good enough for him, so he put them to work, getting the crowd seated for dinner. The Greek verbs give us a clear picture of his actions. He looked up and said a blessing–that was a one time occurrence, but then he began a continuous movement–breaking the loaves and handing them to the disciples. Breaking and handing. Breaking and handing.
They responded by receiving and passing, receiving and passing, receiving and passing. Can you picture the rhythm of this joint effort? Jesus seamlessly multiplying the bread with ordinary movements, the disciples lining up and fanning out to distribute it. This rhythm of Jesus and the disciples working together is an example of concurrence, the cooperation between God and man to do his work in this world.
From Resolutions to Rhythms
That truth–concurrence–changes the way I’m facing the New Year. My resolutions, plans and projects are not all up to me. It will be God and me working together, with the task right sized for each of us. The results will be solid and lasting.
As Solomon said, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
So let’s begin this New Year with confidence in the Lord’s help. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about getting hungry. There were twelve baskets full of fish and bread left over for the disciples. He’ll feed you and me, too.