12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy.When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Last week we had the opportunity to celebrate my mother-in-law, Sue’s, 60th birthday in Colorado. And the exiting thing was that she didn’t know that we were coming. My father-in-law, Gordon, had given her a line about spending the weekend in a different part of Colorado and they were going to spend the first night at a bed and breakfast in Buena Vista.
We had been communicating with Gordon via text messaging so Sue didn’t know what was going on. She was getting ready for bed when we pulled into the B&B and met Gordon in the parking lot. We snuck up the stairs, Gordon cracked the door open, and sent our two-year-old son, Paxton, in alone. Standing in the hall we could hear, “Well, Paxton! How did you get here?”
Then comes what is in my mind the best part of the evening, making the 14 hour trip well worth it. Without missing a beat, Paxton said, “I drove.”
That trip to Colorado was more than just a chance for us to celebrate Sue’s birthday. It was a chance for us to get some much-needed rest (though not enough sleep). And I figured that this is an appropriate subject as we enter into the summer months and the schools close for the summer. Rest is important; no, rest is necessary. We need time to relax, we need time to rejuvenate, and we need time to reconnect with God.
Before we get into today’s text, I want to make a quick trip through the Bible and give us all a little background on rest. And let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.
Genesis tells us that God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them in a period of six days. Then on the 7th day, God started his next project. And that next project was a nap. God rested on the 7th day.
Some time later, Moses is given the Torah, the Law. And one of the most well-known parts of the Torah is the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments tell us that we are to rest on the 7th day because God rested on the 7th day. Do no work, don’t make your servants work, and don’t even make your animals work. It is pretty clear that God wants us to take a day off. There was even a time when the Israelites would refuse to fight on the Sabbath, allowing their enemies to defeat them rather than break God’s Sabbath Law. Later an amendment was added that said that the Israelites would not initiate battle on the Sabbath, but would defend themselves if attacked on the Sabbath.
This was a law that was taken very seriously. If you were caught working on the day of rest, this was punishable by death. The Israelites were not permitted to cook, clean, exchange money, or walk very far on the Sabbath Day.
The Sabbath in the Old Testament was not just a once-a-week observance, though. There were also seven annual festivals where rest and celebration were required. These are days like Pentecost, which we celebrated last week, and Passover. These days are sometimes called “High Sabbaths.” And it didn’t matter if these days fell on a Sabbath Day or another day of the week, the Israelites were not to work on those days. They were days for rest and celebration.
Every seven years the Israelites were to observe something called the Sabbath Year. This is where we get the concept of a sabbatical from. Every 7th year the Israelites were to not till, plant, or harvest their fields and crops. Even the land was a given a break, which we know today to be a good practice for the soil so as to not totally deplete it of nutrients.
So we begin to see how important this concept of Sabbath and rest was to the Jewish people. God designed this world to need rest. The people, the animals, the land itself needs rest. It is in the DNA of creation to need rest.
We jump ahead to the 1st century and we find a trouble maker called Jesus. Right from the get-go of his ministry, Jesus causes problems. He is butting heads with the religious leaders for eating and socializing with the wrong people. He teaches with authority, but he has no known credentials. However, the religious leaders would probably let all of those things slide. But Jesus is working on the Sabbath. In Mark 2, we find Jesus plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath. That’s not considered stealing, but it is considered harvesting. These things could get a Jewish man killed! And the Pharisees make sure to point it out to him.
But Jesus points out to the Pharisees that they are missing the entire point of the Sabbath. The Pharisees are really good at keeping the law without even understanding why the law is in place. In Mark 2:27 Jesus explains it to them: “Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’”
So we go to the next chapter, Mark 3, and we find that Jesus is sticking to this whole “you-are-missing-the-point-of-sabbath” idea. Jesus goes to the Synagogue on the Sabbath and he finds a man with a physical handicap. This man has a shriveled hand. So of course people are watching Jesus. He just got caught harvesting grain on the Sabbath; will he heal this man?
The answer is “Yes!” Jesus heals the man with the shriveled hand and the text tells us that the Pharisees begin to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. That’s right, we are just into chapter 3 and already people are trying to kill Jesus.
Jesus is not refuting the Sabbath Law. He isn’t saying that it isn’t important to rest any more. What Jesus is saying over and over is that the people are missing the point. Human beings weren’t made for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for human beings. The Sabbath is for our own good and for a time to celebrate what God has done/is doing/ will do.
Now to today’s scripture. We find a man approaching Jesus and this man has a serious, likely infectious, and possibly fatal skin disorder that is lumped together with other skin disorders under the term “leprosy.” We don’t know exactly what this man’s skin condition was, but what is clear is that he would be a social and religious outcast because of his leprosy.
So this man comes to Jesus, exhibits faith in Jesus’ ability to heal him, and asks Jesus to do so. Jesus says, “Be clean!” and the text tells us that his leprosy was healed immediately. Jesus asks that the man keeps this between the two of them and verse 15 tells us, “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.”
Word was getting out, people were traveling from miles around to hear him teach and to experience healing. I am sure that there would be no shortage of people for Jesus to teach and heal. Healthcare wouldn’t have been as available in those days as it is today and what healthcare was available would have been very basic. So there was great need all around Jesus, enough to keep him busy 24/7.
We then come to this strange saying in verse 16, right after we hear about all of the need for healing and teaching, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
All of the gospels tell the story of the feeding of the 5,000 where Jesus has been teaching a multitude of people, 5,000, not counting women and children. The people are tired, they are hungry, and the disciples suggest that Jesus send them home so that they can get something to eat. Instead, Jesus takes a little boy’s lunch, which consists of 5 loaves and 2 fish, and feeds all of the people. He must have cut those loves into small, small pieces! No, Jesus performed a miracle and fed the people, increasing the amount of food available so that everyone had their fill and there was some left over!
A couple of the gospels then tell us that after the meal Jesus put his disciples in a boat, sent them to the other side of the lake, and then he dismissed the people. Jesus’ next act was to…go off by himself to rest and pray.
There were people who were sick that needed healing. There were people who were injured that needed healing. There were people who were spiritually hungry and needed feeding. There were people who physically hungry and needed feeding. Jesus was the only man for the job, the only person able to provide the people with everything that they needed. And what did Jesus do? He went off by himself to rest and pray.
That Jesus is one lazy, selfish dude. No, that Jesus is modeling something for us. We call that self-care.
I am all for working hard and getting stuff done. I have noted all that this church does for those in need in a recent sermon and I have called us all to do more. But we need to keep in mind that we also need to care for ourselves.
We have all heard of people working in various areas of service–pastors, volunteers, social workers, and people of that nature–who have become burned out because of their work. And the reason for this is because we never run out of people to help and things to do. If we would allow ourselves to we could be helping others 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. There will always be needs around us as long as we are on this earth. And I believe that as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to do what we can to help alleviate these needs. But if we don’t take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually, we won’t be able to help anyone.
Jesus kept the Sabbath. Perhaps not legalistically as the Pharisees thought he should, but he rested on the 7th day and observed the religious holidays. But he also knew that wasn’t enough. He frequently took time out of his busy day of healing, teaching, and feeding people to rest and connect with God.
I know, believe me I know, that it is hard to take time off. I fear that if I take time off that things won’t get done or they won’t get done as well as I want them to get done. I am afraid that I will let people down and disappoint people that are counting on me. But every now and then I come to my senses and ask myself, “Are you more important than Jesus?”
I am sure that there were people that were not able to get the things that they wanted and needed from Jesus, but Jesus modeled for us that sometimes you need to take care of yourself if you want to be able to take care of others.
For those of you that don’t know, my in laws are two years into a three-year-term with Mennonite Voluntary Service working in what I believe is the second most poverty-stricken county in the United States. They work with a series of food banks, picking up and distributing food to the hungry, providing relief for those that can’t pay their bills, and things of that nature. I strongly support their efforts and dedication in this area.
But sometimes things just don’t feel right to me. For instance, when we were visiting my in laws last week, my mother-in-law understandably wanted to spend as much time as possible with her family. She didn’t want to be at work while we were living it up in Alamosa, Colorado. She didn’t have to work on Monday because of the holiday, but Tuesday she left work about two hours early. Wednesday was her birthday and some people were even encouraging her to call in “sick.” She only ended up working about three hours on Wednesday before her boss let her go home early.
I felt uneasy about this because I thought of all of the work that wasn’t getting done while she was home with family. People weren’t getting served. Or if they were, someone else was picking up the slack for her. But then I had a bit of a realization. Jesus left work early sometimes to rest and rejuvenate and spend time reconnecting with family (Father, God). But Jesus also knew that he couldn’t do it all by himself.
Just before Luke’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 we find the story of Jesus sending out his 12 disciples. Luke 9:1-2 “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”
Jesus wasn’t the only one doing these acts; he wasn’t the only one helping people in need. In the next chapter, Luke 10, Jesus sends out 72. The message that I get from this is that we don’t need to do it all by ourselves!
So when my mother-in-law took off the afternoon of her birthday, sure, other people had to pick up the slack. But that is the point: there are other people working together to do the things that Jesus has called us to do. And I can guarantee you that my mother-in-law has picked up the slack for other people when they needed a little time off as well.
Jesus shows us the importance of rest, rejuvenation, and reconnecting with God. If Jesus needed to rest we surely do, too. I would encourage you all to take time for yourself, to rest, rejuvenate, and reconnect with God on a regular basis.
I am sure that you would all like some exact numbers about how often and for how long you should be resting, but I can’t prescribe for you how often you need to rest or for how long. I learned this about 12 years ago when I met a man who is a physical therapist. I would talk with him from time to time and it seemed like he was always taking vacations. He would work for a couple of weeks and then take a few days off.
I jokingly gave him a hard time about all of the time that he took off. And he explained to me that in his line of work it was important to take a good amount of time off. He works with terminally ill people, trying to improve their last few months on earth. He told me something like, “When you see the people you work with die every day, you need a little more time away than the average person.”
What you do in your daily life will probably influence how often you need to take off to rest, rejuvenate, and reconnect with God.
You don’t need to go to Colorado to find rest. I personally find rest by getting out and hiking in this area. Or sometimes just picking up a book of fiction writing rather than another theology book is restful for me. Resting, rejuvenating, and reconnecting doesn’t mean that you need to go far away to some place exotic. It just means that you take a break from your normal life and change your priorities for a bit of time.
But it doesn’t mean that you need to do nothing. I like to do something drastically different from my church work as a way to rest. For me lately that has meant home renovations. That’s right, physical labor to me is relaxing.
We are all different. Some will do best when they get a chance to rest every day. Others will only need to participate in a weekly Sabbath rest. But we all need rest. We were made to need rest. So my advice to you this summer, is to give yourself a break. You can decide for how long, when, and where.