The Summer season which is upon us, (at least in theory), is associated with rest and recreation. Everyone needs their rest, we say, and getting away from the routine of your life can help you to return to it with a renewed appreciation and perhaps with new ideas and insights. Jesus in today’s gospel, having listened to all the apostles had done and taught responds by telling them, ‘you must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’.
This rhythm of work, rest and reflection is the rhythm of the Christian life. Too much work is not good, we are told, and if we are too busy to pray – then we are too busy. It is not always true to say that to work is to pray. Time out, time to reflect, to listen, to put the shattered bits of life back together again, is needed. Otherwise life is lived on the surface, and questions are dodged about the worth and meaning of all that we are and do.
Too much withdrawal is not good either of course. We must never seek God’s company so as to avoid the company of others, or the troubles of engaging in the world but rather to train ourselves the better for these things. The apostles’ attempt at escape fails. The people follow them and Christ is filled with pity for the crowds. They are adrift, like sheep without a shepherd, so he sets out to teach them at some length.
Those who are shepherds of people today, those in leadership or caring professions are similarly under increasing pressure. The priestly shepherd is also under much scrutiny. There are searching questions being asked about priest-shepherds, about their future and their lifestyles. Civic leaders too are under pressure. Integrity and honesty are demanded as never before.
People are still seeking, flocking in less numbers perhaps but still seeking leadership and compassion, the compassion of Christ in the gospel, his compassion for people under pressure. The demands are always draining; the respite always welcome. There is always the promise in Jeremiah to take comfort in, ‘I will raise up shepherds to look after them.’
Today, reflect on the rhythm of your own life, on the time given to the things of the world, to others and to the things of God. Rest, reflect, and return to work. Encourage your shepherds and reprove them kindly when necessary. Allow yourselves to be led, not easily led, but led by those whom you trust, and take your own leadership