The Apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat.
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.
When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.
6:30 After the interlude on the death of John the Baptist, Mark picks up where he left off with the mission of the apostles (6:7–13), who now return to Jesus and report to him all they had done and taught. Although Jesus’ recent instructions (6:7–11) did not mention teaching, it was part of the ministry for which he had appointed them (3:14). This brief passage serves as a hinge, concluding the mission of the Twelve and preparing for the theme of nourishment and bread on which the next major section will focus.
6:31–32 Jesus recognizes that after their period of intense apostolic labors, the Twelve need to be refreshed once again in his presence and in their fellowship with one another. To “be with him” remains a requirement of fruitful apostleship that must be constantly renewed (3:14; see John 15:4). The deserted place recalls the desert of 1:3–13, a place of testing but also a place of solitude and retreat where God’s people withdraw from the world for special intimacy with him. Jesus’ desire to give them rest evokes the rest that God pledges to give his people in the promised land (Exod 33:14; Deut 12:10; see Heb 4:9–11). It also shows his concern for the practical, physical needs of those who spend themselves in his service.
From the fact that people were coming and going in great numbers it may be inferred that the apostles’ preaching of repentance (6:12) had hit the mark. More people than ever were being drawn to Jesus and prepared to receive his teaching and his healing power. Once again Mark notes that the apostles’ ministry was so demanding that they had no opportunity even to eat (see 3:20). They are taking on the character of Jesus, who subordinates his personal needs to his ministry to his people. This remark prepares for the miracle of the loaves that is about to occur. Jesus and the apostles go off to a deserted place that, as we will soon see, turns out to be not so deserted after all.
6:34. Our Lord had planned a period of rest, for himself and his disciples, from the pressures of the apostolate (Mk 6:31–32). And he has to change his plans because so many people come, eager to hear him speak. Not only is he not annoyed with them: he feels compassion on seeing their spiritual need. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6). They need instruction and our Lord wants to meet this need by preaching to them.
This brief passage illustrates the rhythm of Christian apostolic activity, which ought to alternate between periods of intense labor and periods of simply “being with” Jesus (see 3:14). Here we can imagine him taking time with each disciple to listen to the reports of their successes and failures, to encourage, counsel, and redirect them where necessary. What spiritual refreshment they must have found in this “debriefing” conversation.
It is true that the demands of apostolic activity, both then and now, will occasionally preempt the need for physical and mental rest (see 6:33–34). But the temptation for those of us who work in Christ’s vineyard is to get so caught up in the busyness of ministry that we repeatedly ignore the need for prayer, rest, and stillness in God’s presence. When that happens, it is all too easy to begin imperceptibly substituting our own agenda for the Lord’s.
Authentic Christian ministry is rooted in prayer since apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:1–8). How can we carry out the Lord’s work except in the Lord’s strength (see 1 Pet 4:11)? And how can we be renewed in that strength except by waiting in his presence (see Isa 40:31)?
– Mary Healy