Need for rest and reflection

Al Cariño
16th Sunday in OT
July 20, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

For the Jews of old, their kings were also their shepherds. This notion implied that kings not only led but also provided for the people. Failing to carry out this role resulted in disaster for the nation. It was for this reason that after the defeat and exile of God's chosen people in Babylon, Jeremiah had the following words for the shepherd-kings: "Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!" (Jer. 23: 1-6)

But rarely did a prophet condemn without offering hope. Thus from his condemnation of the kings Jeremiah turned to the proclamation of two new promises. First, that God would bring together the flock, the remnant of Israel, from their places of exile and second, that He would raise up a shepherd from the stock of David who would "reign and govern wisely" and do "what is just and right in the land." In short, a king who took care of his flock.

In the gospel reading (Mk. 6:30-34), we see a glimpse of Jesus acting as this kind of shepherd. After the twelve apostles returned from their first missionary journey, they reported to Jesus "all they had done and taught." But unknown to them, it was precisely because of these that the people swarmed around them. This left them with no time for themselves, not even for eating.

Seeing how much they needed rest, Jesus, the shepherd, told His apostles, His shepherds-to-be, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." Forthwith, they took a boat to go to a solitary place where they could have time for themselves to regain their strength as well as prayerfully internalize their experiences.

But this was not to be as the crowd followed them and intruded into their `retreat'. Seeing the people, Jesus had "compassion" on them because they were like "sheep without a shepherd". There and then, Jesus' made it His priority to provide for their immediate needs. Thus He taught them "many things."

This way Jesus put into practice what He told the people: "Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find." The crowd had sought Him out and had found Him; they had asked and they had received. To put into practice what He preached is the kind of shepherd Jesus had revealed Himself to be. That's the kind of shepherds He wants His apostles to be.

Though this incident highlights Jesus' urgent love for people in need, this does not mean that it is not important for His apostles to spend time for rest and reflection. His apostles are not robots; they, too, have to rest and thus be reinvigorated. Otherwise, they will end up as burn-out cases with nothing to offer their flock.

We all need to get away, to be by ourselves, to have our time of quiet. For in life, the danger from constant action is very real -- it prevents reflection and often pushes us towards wrong priorities.

A story is told of a father of a family who, in order to earn more for his family, went abroad as an overseas worker. He worked very hard and made good money which he sent regularly to his family. After two years, he renewed his contract with the company before returning home. He brought plenty of pasalubong (gifts) for everyone specially the children which made them deliriously happy.

But as the days passed, he found out that his growing children treated him differently. They were not as close to him as they were before he left. True, they were polite to him but they never shared their interests and problems with him. He then realized that he had become a stranger to them! Seeing this to be the disastrous consequence of his being away, he decided to cancel his contract overseas and stay home instead even if it meant earning less. The timely realization that he had to be shepherd of his family came to him only after he had taken a break from his work and had the time to rest and reflect on the reality that confronted him.

Many of us work ourselves to the bone so that we can provide better for our families. But before long, we find ourselves devoting less and less time for our family. We also begin to complain of all kinds of bodily pains. Some develop high blood pressure. Others, heart problems. It is then that we realize that we have not really taken well of ourselves and of our family.

The Book of Genesis tells us that the work of creation took God six days. On the seventh day, He rested. When He gave His chosen people the 10 commandments, he made sure that one day of the week was a rest day -- the Lord's day. If we want to continue to be good shepherds to our family and to one another, we have to be healthy -- physically, psychologically and spiritually. Spending time for rest and reflection will go a long way in this regard.