Sunday, July 22, is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).
Jeremiah 23:1-16, Psalms 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:13-18, Mark 6:30-34
Pope Benedict XVI once called a weekend like this, late in July, “the heart of summer.” And so it is. The Pope is on vacation, and so are many Register readers.
It feels like “the heart of summer” in today’s Gospel, when Jesus hears the work report of his apostles and invites them on a “mini vacation” of their own. “The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught,” says the Gospel. “He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’”
You can read the vacation theme into the rest of today’s readings, too.
The Psalm describes what vacation often feels like — taking a journey through the unknown to a place of rest. “Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side, with your rod and your staff that give me courage,” it says. “You spread the table before me … you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
That sounds like a lot of our vacations, driving our filled-up van through new landscapes and ending up at Grandma’s house.
Vacations are as Christian as Sunday rest. They are a necessary respite for us from the difficulties of life. They are a “reset” button that allows us to reorder our priorities and remember what is most important.
But while vacations should be a rest from work, they should not be an escape from the reality of our lives — including our spiritual life.
Today’s readings point to something profound: They encourage us to look at life as a period of work looking toward the future “vacation” of heaven.
In the first reading, Jeremiah has a vision of what will happen when Christ comes. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the Lord.”
That means that after the uncertainty and sorrow of the Israelites’ sufferings, God will gather them together at last in the Church. But it also means that after the difficulty of life on earth, God will gather us together at his side.
You can hear both meanings in the second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians about the mission of Christ:
“He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
Ultimately, our rest in heaven will be our first real rest. For one thing, as any parent knows, vacations often change the location, but not the tasks, of our busy lives. And for another, even vacations aren’t meant to be trouble-free.
Consider the apostles’ vacation in today’s Gospel. They leave in order to avoid the people who “were coming and going in great numbers.” But when they headed out for their “vacation spot,” says the Gospel, “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.”
So the crowds that Jesus was trying to avoid were the same crowds who met the apostles when they landed. Jesus didn’t order everyone back on the boat to look for a new spot. Instead, “his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” He stayed and added more work during the apostles’ time of rest.
So, rest up this vacation. But if God sees fit to put more work in your way in the midst of your vacation, don’t be angry — take it in stride. The will of God and the needs of others always come first. Even in the heart of summer.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.