It’s early morning. The sky is dark, and the first birds haven’t yet begun to sing. My companions all sleep, but I’ve been awake, thinking about the healing last night of Simon’s mother-in-law, and of the many other people who pressed their way into the house, seeking—and receiving—Jesus’ help.
Jesus stirs, sits, and slips on his sandals, then soundlessly heads for the door. Is he simply following the call of nature? But he has made these early morning disappearances before, staying away longer than expected, and I’m curious. Where does he go, and why? I’m drawn to him, and, after the press of crowds, also feel the need of a few moments out of a room full of my deeply breathing companions, so I dare to follow, staying well behind so he isn’t (I hope) aware of my presence.
I breathe deeply the early morning air, grateful for the cool before the heat that comes with the sun. The odors are less now too, with fewer hot bodies milling and animals tucked away for the night.
Jesus walks past the row of houses, toward the lake, and when he has left the last house behind, he pauses. He begins to speak quietly. I’m too far away to hear the words, but there’s a stillness here. How much of the stillness I feel is the stillness of any city at this early hour, and how much is the deeper, larger stillness of Jesus and his quiet conversation that I can’t quite hear?
He continues to whisper. I breathe more deeply. A thin line appears at the horizon, slowly lighting the clouds above.
The city is waking—donkeys braying, babies crying to be fed, the clatter of cart wheels passing on stone roads. And then steps, and the voices of Simon and the others calling for Jesus. “There you are! Everyone is looking for you!” Simon’s voice is hurried, heavy with expectation, and I feel angry with the noisy demands of Simon and our companions, and of the crowds that have begun to follow us everywhere. In my irritation that Jesus’ peace (and mine) has been disturbed, I want to snap at Simon, “Can’t you give him some space? He’ll come back when he’s ready! He’s human and he works so hard and he deserves a little quiet!” I want to insist that they protect Jesus like I want to, like I feel helpless to.
But Jesus doesn’t share my anger. The calmness I’ve heard in his voice I now see on his face. He looks quietly at Simon, and answers, “Let’s go somewhere else.”
Simon pauses, his face a puzzle, as though wondering what he missed. Did Jesus not hear him? There are crowds waiting! People have carried their lame friends, their sick children, to see Jesus. They’ve heard what he has done for others and have traveled far. Simon opens his mouth to protest. Surely Jesus can’t mean to ignore the crowds! Maybe Jesus didn’t hear him. Maybe he just needs to make the situation clearer, help Jesus understand how many people are waiting for him.
But Jesus continues, “Let’s go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38).
Jesus isn’t angry. He doesn’t need to be. He’s not threatened or pressured by the demands of the crowds or the expectations of Simon and the others. He sees expectations for what they are—words and desires, something that only has power over him if he lets them, not something that needs to threaten or direct his path unless he chooses. And here, he doesn’t choose, because those expectations differ from the path his Father has him on, the reason he knows he has come.
We’ve only just begun to follow Jesus and don’t yet know that he’ll shatter not just the crowd’s expectations but all our expectations too, eating with traitors (and inviting one of them to be part of our inner group!), destroying our reputation by letting a prostitute wipe his feet with her hair, declaring that rather than marching in military victory he has to die.
We’re only just starting to know that there will be many times we’ll be stretched by his willingness to let himself be interrupted—pausing when a blind man in the crowd calls his name, creating a spur-of-the moment feast for thousands out of one little boy’s lunch, welcoming squirmy children to sit on his lap when we’re trying to guard his space by shooing them away. He will work long days and heal inconvenient people.
But as he begins to lead us into that life of love and grace, that daily offering of himself in loving service, he models for us this early morning lesson: the desires of the crowds, the expectations of his closest friends—none of this determines his life’s route. His Father does, and his deep internal knowledge of why he has come.
He is God, yes, with limitless love. And he is human too, with limited energy and time. He has to eat, and sleep, and pray. He has to listen to his Father and choose what not to do in order to do what he has come for. And he does so without apology or explanation. “Let us go somewhere else. . . so that I may preach there also. That is why I have come.”
I’ve been lingering in this story recently, sometimes imagining myself to be Simon, sometimes an unnamed observer, always, eventually, talking with Jesus about how this story both rubs uncomfortably against my assumptions about what responsibility and love and kindness look like and invites me into a freedom I long for.
I don’t get an explanation. I do receive an invitation: “Stay close. Follow me. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” And so I continue to linger in this story and others, watching Jesus, talking with him, listening for how he wants to walk each day with me.
Linger with me, will you, and let these encounters with Jesus shape and free us?
Two Resources for You:
- I’ve entered gospel stories imaginatively before, but I’ve recently been given a set of guidelines that I’ve found quite helpful. I’m sharing them here (with permission) so you can join me in this way of prayer if you like. Just click here to download.
- The way we see the world, discern our vocation, and interact with the expectations of others is shaped by the way we ourselves have experienced life from our earliest days. In Calling in Context: Social Location and Vocational Formation, Susan L. Maros helps us to explore the ways our unique understanding of our vocation has been shaped by our racial-ethnic-cultural identity, our socioeconomic status and class, and our gender. As she says, “I have a specific ‘come from’ that influences what I see as important and how I present what I see. Working in academia, I’ve been shaped by a social context that assumes objectivity is not only desirable but actually attainable. Personal stories are frowned on as being too subjective. . . . I have come to realize, though, that objectivity is ultimately humanly impossible. I always have a perspective; every person has a perspective from which they see the world. The point is not to try to rid myself of the particularities of my perspective but to be conscious of and name those particularities” (p. 6). There is freedom in being able to see that the way we see things isn’t the only way to see them, or even the “right” way to see them, and I’ve been appreciating Maros’ book and the questions she asks within it.