Mark 1.29-39 tells the story of Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law and then being overrun by people who also want to receive healing from him. The story says that by sunset that day the whole city was gathered around the door where Jesus was staying. “He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons,” Mark 1.33-34 relates. The next morning, very early and before anyone else had awakened, Jesus got up and went to a deserted place. Simon and his friends search and search for Jesus and finally find him in the place where he has gone to pray. They tell him rather urgently that everyone is waiting for him back in town and that he better hurry up and come heal all those who are in need. Jesus responds by saying that it is time for him to move on to the next town. So, on he goes, presumably leaving behind a number of people who are sick or possessed by demons.
The compassion of Jesus is never questioned in the scriptural accounts but a closer examination reveals that, while Jesus does heal many people, he also leaves some behind as he moves on in his ministry. Jesus didn’t stay in one place the whole time. Had he stayed in one town and completely healed everyone there who needed healing, then we might be left to speculate how many more he might have healed had he been more mobile. As it is, we can wonder how many people were left in line when he did go on to the neighboring towns. Jesus did a lot in his ministry but even Jesus left a lot undone. There were limitations he had to accept in his earthly work.
I’ve often thought that one suggestion I might make to God when I get to see him face to face is that he could have made the days longer. There’s not enough time to do all that we are called on to do each day. Every day you and I must face that limitation. We can only do so much. Never is everything completely done. And, even on those rare days when we are supremely successful in scratching things off our to-do lists, tomorrow brings another list.
Simon and his friends who desperately confront Jesus as he is praying represent the urgency and panic that we bring to many of our tasks. Pressing harder and harder to get things done has an empty feel to it. We keep bumping up against time limitations. There’s a certain anxiety in this world that we all deal with when it comes to our work, be it a church, a business, or tending to a family. How easy it is to get lost in that anxiety, to take our work and ourselves way too seriously. A former senior warden in my last parish used to tease me about the hours I kept, reminding me that I might want to leave something for Jesus to do instead of trying to do it all myself. Successful people seem to work hard but not all that much of hard work is actually successful when we get right down to it. How we work is more important than the amount of work we do.
Surely Jesus worked hard. His compassion led him to struggle with the pain in the world and I don’t recall an instance of Jesus ever saying he was too busy to help someone else. But he did move on in his life. He did as much as he could and consistently returned to those deserted places to be alone in prayer with his father. He seemed to have a certain peacefulness in his work which resulted from his consistent prayer life. The moving on he does in his ministry is not running from undone jobs; it is moving toward the needs of others. That kind of peace can only come from God himself.
Perhaps Jesus trusted that his earthly efforts, while important, were only part of the overall resolution to the world’s problems. He seemed to embrace his calling to teach and heal but he seemed to know that, ultimately, everything is in the Father’s hands. While we’re told he went through all the human emotions, it doesn’t seem like he ever got stuck in anxiety like we do.
The Gospel shows pretty clearly that Jesus was able to do things we simply cannot do. The Gospel also promises us that the same Spirit which led and guided the Son is available to each of us in our pilgrimage. Wherever you are in life, there is always that invitation to move on. Do your best but know you can only do so much. Know that God is providing all that is truly needed. Until we learn to move on in any given situation, we really have not left any room for God to work. Until I can release and surrender my own need to solve and complete something I cannot see anything more than my effort. But, as I offer my very best and then move on to the next challenge, I can begin to see the Spirit doing the work of resolving and completing.
We are given limitations in this world for a purpose. As we learn to accept them, while we work as hard as we possibly can, we also learn the power of the Almighty God who has no limitations. It’s time to move on to the next thing in life, whatever that may be. As you move on, Christ will be made manifest.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.