The following is a biblical reflection on Proper 14, Matthew 14:22-23 I wrote for The Steward’s Well, a quarterly newsletter of The Episcopal Church:
A generation ago, it was hoped that advances in technology would help humans work more efficiently. The cartoon TV show The Jetsons portrayed that world of the future where a push of the right button could handle any task from preparing meals to cleaning the house. Now we find ourselves living in something very different from that forecasted future. Rather than make more time for leisure, advances in technology have increased the workload. More and more people work longer and longer workweeks as smart phones and the internet keep us constantly tethered to work with that one more email to answer before going to sleep.
Imagine the rush of business suddenly stopping in the middle of a busy workday. The incessant taping of computer keys ceases. The clamor of stops. Underneath the clatter and the clutter of our lives, the Holy Spirit is seeking to call us home to the lives for which were created. The call is to live in relationship to God and each other through which we experienceshalom. We translate this word as “peace”, yet shalom is much more than the antonym for war. Shalom is “wellbeing” and “wholeness.”
This wholeness of shalom stands in opposition to lives pulled apart by distractions. Our loving creator knew we needed to stop and just be and so built rest into the very foundations of the universe. Within Christian tradition, the story of creation has been viewed as culminating in the creation of humankind in the image of God. In Judaism, the Sabbathis the pinnacle of creation. On the seventh day God rests. Humans and animals alike were to rest as well. Master and servant alike were commanded to observe the Sabbath.
We were created to be stewards not just of matter, but also of time. So serious was this prohibition of working on the Sabbath, that the Torah made Sabbath breaking a capital offence. By the time of Jesus life and ministry, the Sabbath laws were so deeply ingrained in the lives of faithful Jews that even Jesus’ acts of bringing health and wholeness to someone in need of healing was seen by some as sin when done on the Sabbath.
Yet, woven through the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus is his taking time away. Jesus is always retreating to a place of rest and prayer.In the fourteenth chapter of Matthew, we see Jesus seeking time alone. He has just learned of the death of John the Baptist and we are told, “He withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” Peace was just out of reach as the crowds pursued him, watching where his boat came to rest and pursuing him on foot. Jesus felt compassion for the people, taught them and fed their physical hunger with five loaves of bread and two fish. The story continues, “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.”
Rest and prayer were the constant refrain of Jesus’ life. If he needed this time for rest, how much more do we need to make the time to be re-created. The Sabbath was created for us to stop the frenetic activity and find renewal in being rather than doing. It is in this stillness that we can be open to the silence and the stillness of God.
While the sunrise over the water may be just as breathtaking when viewed from the line of cars gridlocked on the bridge during a morning commute, it is more deeply appreciated from a rocking chair or hammock. Stopping to rest makes space for reflection and gratitude. From that place of rest, the activity of our lives comes into proper perspective.
As one given to workaholism, rest does not feel like my natural state. I am the object in motion that tends to stay in motion. Yet, I want the wholeness that comes from resting in God. I want that peace and well-being. I want that place of gratitude. This is found solely when my life is balanced with rest in its right proportion to work. The people in my life need me to find the space for renewal. The world in fact longs for all of us to find the rest we need, to be re-created by the creator who made us for rest as well as work. From this Sabbath rest comes a well spring of generosity of life and spirit for which our frenetic world deeply longs.
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