My mom used to say: “There’s no rest for the weary, and the wicked don’t need it!” To be honest, I never understood what the second part of that phrase meant. I still don’t. I always assumed even wicked people get tired.
However, the first part of the phrase resonates with me, with most hard-working folks, and with the biblical story of Jesus. During my morning devotional time today I listened to a preacher/teacher named Alistair Begg. He conducted a study of the feeding of the five thousand. Begg reminded his listeners that the miracle occurred when Jesus and the twelve disciples were literally trying to escape the crowds, not feed them. He told his disciples to join Him in a boat. They would sail together to a rather isolated spot on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to “retreat to a quiet place.”
But, as the story goes, the crowds would have nothing of Jesus’ need for rest. They raced to the spot where He and his friends were headed and were waiting with all their pains and needs in hand when the boat pulled ashore. As I read the account, a fascinating verse (given the fatigue Jesus and his friends had confessed) is this: “When He saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion upon them. For they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Alistair Begg commented that the disciples said: “Send them away,” and Jesus responded: “Seek them out.” In other words, “Find a way to help them. Find some bread and fish with which to feed them. Find some love to offer them.”
Jesus certainly knew what He was talking about when at another time he said: “The poor you have with you always.” Use whatever other appropriate word you wish in addition to “poor.” “Hungry.” “Homeless.” “Abused.” “Lonely.” Sick.” “Frightened.” “Depressed.” “Oppressed.” At every turn He encountered people with wounds and needs, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” And Jesus never sent them away.
There are a couple of messages here for us. The first is personal. If even Jesus occasionally needed quiet time to refresh, renew, and restore, so will we. There is nothing wrong with temporary retreat, with Shabbat. In fact, unless we periodically take care of ourselves, we will not long remain strong enough to properly care for anyone else.
The other message, however, is this: The world and its pains do not always wait for a convenient moment to ask us for assistance. I remember a pastor once who commented: “All the time I spend I pondering what I can do for others and when I can get around to it, some people spend that time starving to death.” I hear what she was saying. Human need always surrounds us. People are “harassed and helpless,” hungry and hopeless, lonely and lost, wounded and weary. Those are realities they cannot put on hold till we find time for them. And though none of us can take on all the world’s issues, each of us can take on a handful – or, at least, a single issue. As I say so often, none of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. And every moment of every day, someone needs the something we can do.
No rest for the weary? I guess it sometimes seems that way to us, as it also must have to Christ. But, we can still learn great lessons from what He did. (a) We need to plan for occasions of retreat and renewal. Self-care is an act of faithfulness. (b) But, the retreat and renewal always refuel us for continued service in a world of remarkable need. Someone needs our gifts, our assistance, our contributions, or simply our forgiveness, our listening ears, and our love. When the crowds stood before Jesus and his friends at the Sea of Galilee, and he “was moved with compassion upon them,” he told the disciples: “Give them something to eat.” There is never a moment when we should ignore compassion or the challenge to put it into action.