When Jesus Realised that they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, he with drew again to the mountain by himself – John 6:15
Sometime ago somebody said to me, ‘The good things you do can stop you from doing the best thing you should be doing.” At the time I smiled and thought little about it. Over the years though, the truth of that statement has begun to become clearer for me.
The danger in our lives is that we can get so involved in the stuff of life, the stuff we enjoy doing and the stuff we think we have to do that we lose sight of the thing we ought to be doing. We are busy, fully engaged with others, providing solutions, achieving stuff, finishing our studies, getting married, raising kids and so forth, that we forget what we set out to do in life. Like the old adage ‘ we are so busy fighting off the crocodiles we forgot all we went out to do was drain the pool!
The even bigger danger is that we become so engrossed in what’s coming at us from all sides, we have little or no space to reflect on any of this and after a while don’t even bother to bother about making the space to look at our lives from a different angle. We give up and spend the rest of our life distracted from our original purpose and only realise it when it is almost too late.
Jesus faced this dilemma every day. Every where he went people were coming at him, people who needed help, people for healing, people who wanted answers; religious leaders and politicians who were asking the hard questions and those slow learning disciples who had to be taught the basics about the spiritual life. If he went to get a drink at the village well people asked hard questions, if he went to a wedding he was put in charge of the wine, if he went to dinner the more eccentric guests did things like anoint his feet with oil and more. Just going across the lake gathered a large and needy crowd.
And it wasn’t that people came to him, he Jesus the incarnated Christ felt for them. He had compassion – a deep desire to do something for them – and he often acted on that compassion. He healed people, drove out demons, challenged social injustices and simply was available 24/7 to others out of this sense of identification, of being human just like those who came to him. Something had to be done, and often, he did something.
Yet he knew that his humanness, his humanity, was not all there was to his identity. He was the Christ, the Messiah, and there was more to his life than solving people’s material need for healing, belonging and security. He knew that innately to some degree, to what degree we do not know exactly, but we do know he spent much time exploring and defining his place in the world and his Fathers kingdom.
The first part of John 6:15 “When Jesus realised that they were about to come and take him by force and make him king’, speaks of that human pressure to do what is expected of you by others. To be responsible and step up to the mark that those around you deem important. Jesus faces here again the type of temptation he did in the desert after his baptism. The temptation to be seen as the king of the world, the one who is being lauded as the saviour of others, if he goes with them now he will grab his 15 minutes of fame and become a popular icon. But is that the best thing?
Each of us struggles daily with this temptation at some level. We are manipulated by how it feels when we find a sense of belonging in a group or in a family, by the kind words others say about us, the way others come to us to unburden their problems and seek our counsel, or simply by success at work, school or play. We can suddenly find ourselves caught up and off on the wrong track doing the good stuff but not the best.
At the same time we can be rocked off our feet by the negative that comes and takes us away from the best. In the last week we have seen the death of a 14 year old girl, the 4th in one Victorian high school, who has committed suicide because of bullying, the negative input from those around her. This extreme example of how easy and devastating it is to soak in how the world sees us and to allow that to define our identity highlights the importance of maintaining space to reaffirm our place in this world.
Jesus sees the crowd coming or perhaps, not so much sees them coming but discerns the mood, the intention, the desire of the crowd and withdraws. The last 8 words of John 6:15, ‘He withdrew again to the mountains by himself’ provide us with some clues.
He withdrew so he could draw breath, to breathe in the truth about his identity and breathe out the overwhelming temptation to be a superstar, leading the people to victory as their king. Jesus, the man, found space to reflect on Christ the messiah, the Son of God, and redefine for himself his whole reason for being.
And this was not a knee jerk reaction to this situation, it was his discipline, for there are over 16 references in the four Gospels to Jesus taking time out.
It was his delight – he delighted in this time alone for quiet reflection and fought to have it even if, on many occasions as this passage attests to, it was fleeting and interrupted by others.
It was dialogue with himself and with his father and it allowed him to define and redefine who he really was. It was prayer and contemplation which reinforced his fidelity to the mission of God. This includes those moments when we find him wrestling and arguing with God in the last two times his prayer is recorded, in the Garden before his betrayal and on the Cross before his death.
It was this discipline of dialogue with himself, working through what he thought and believed, what he desired and needed and how he saw himself at his centre which allows him to stay the course, even when the option to avoid the messy outcome is available to him, it is his decision, he remains faithful to his and his fathers mission.
It was his discipline of dialoguing with his father, working through the relational dimension with the kingdom in the midst of the world, which allowed him to say no to what may very well have been good things so that he could focus on God’s plan, the best thing.
Jesus discipline gave him the freedom to cut through the good stuff he did, and could have spent the rest of his life in to old age doing, to do the best thing even though that best thing cost him his life.
The challenge for us as his brothers and sisters, God’s Children and co-heirs of the kingdom, is to find that discipline for ourselves and in dialogue with God and ourselves to discern the best from the good and stay with it, regardless of the cost.