(Offered at Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Navigating Our World (N.O.W.) service on Wednesday, July 28, 2021)
In early July, I had a conversation with a friend where I was told that “At the end of your day, you have to choose you.” I meditated and reflected on this. What does it mean to choose you or to choose oneself? A few days later, I was watching the tv show All American, particularly the episode that introduced the spinoff, All American Homecoming. The young Black teenager character, Simone, is finishing up her senior year of high school and thinking about what she wants to do next in terms of college. She is trying to balance the desires of her family and friends with the struggle of knowing what’s best for her. Amid this struggle, her aunt says to her, “In order for you to be the best version of yourself to everybody that you love, you must choose yourself first.” You may know where I’m going with this by now, but if not, I’ll continue. Recently, gymnast star Simone Biles followed in the footsteps of tennis star Naomi Osaka in choosing herself. Simone Biles said of her decision to pull out the U.S. gymnastics team final, “This Olympic Games I wanted it to be for myself…I came in and felt like I was still doing it for other people. That just hurts my heart that doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.” So, what does it mean to choose you, and why am I talking about this within the context of a theological reflection?
Well, this idea of choosing yourself at times is one that is found in the Bible in the story of Jesus as I was able to discuss in the mid-week Bible study last week. We can think of it in particular in terms of the words from fictional Simone’s aunt, “in order for you to be the best version of yourself for everybody that you love, one could also say are called to, you must choose yourself first.” Mark 6:30-34 NRSV says:
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
We can imagine from this passage what the life of Jesus may have been like. Jesus was a celebrity of his day. People were constantly chasing him and following him hoping to touch him, even just the hem of his garment, or be touched by him and be healed. They wanted to hear him teach and then they would return to their homes and communities to tell others about this Jesus. This man that everyone was talking about to the point that his presence and his message posed a threat to the governmental and institutional systems of the day. Jesus and his disciples are constantly in the company of others. Ministry has become their lifestyle. Serving people and doing the work of ministry is a part of their calling. And some of us may relate to this. You may be the person on your job that everyone comes to for help or to get the tasks done because they know that you’re reliable and dependable. You may be the person with a heart for service, so you serve as an usher and with the choir and you’re always the first to volunteer at the church when they need help. You may be the all-around busybody where you commit to your job and you serve in church and you do things in your community and you take care of your family and you give of yourself to all those around you. And while this pandemic may have given you time to breathe and rest, the pressure of a somewhat premature return to normal threatens to pull you back into those habits of giving all of yourself away to those you love and the communities you love. You may feel the pressure of those around you and this capitalistic society to produce, produce, produce. Like Jesus in some regards, people are constantly drawing on you.
Again, Jesus models how we can respond. Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” And they do as God instructs because up to this point, they haven’t even had time to eat. They go away and rest. In this moment where the people are anxiously awaiting their visit, already in the place they are headed to, they choose themselves. They choose to care for the bodies that God has given them. For they know that if they allow it, people will draw on them until they are drained, exhausted, and empty. Thus, Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” And maybe they felt a little guilty. Like Jesus, there are all these people out here waiting on us, waiting to hear you speak. Jesus, there are so many people out there in need of healing. If we take a break, we may not have time to reach them all. Jesus, the people are waiting for you. We have to push through for them. We have to give them what they’re asking for. We have to give them what they need. We don’t have time to rest. Yet Jesus’s words remain, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
The invitation was offered, and they responded. The scripture says, “And they went away in a boat to a deserted place by themselves.” The invitation has been offered to us. Like Jesus, Naomi and Simone have modeled what it means to choose ourselves. We choose ourselves so that we can be the best for those around us. We choose ourselves to care for the minds, bodies, and souls that God have given us. We choose ourselves because even God rested. In going to the deserted place to rest, we provide a space and an atmosphere for God to move in our lives. We let go of the wheel and the need to constantly be busy and moving and in control. We allow God to pour back into us and to give us what we need to continue doing the good work in our family, on our job, in our church, and in our community. We resist the pressure to be perfect and be all things to all people. We resist the temptation of this capitalistic society to let production define us. The Nap Ministry reminds us, “Your body is not a tool of production for a capitalist system. Your body is a site of liberation. You can rest.”
The invitation has been offered, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” How will we respond? ♦