Let us pray.
Take our lives and let them be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take our moments and our days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise. Amen.
As the temperatures begin to boil here in Norwalk, we find ourselves right at the height of vacation season and I suspect that some of you are getting ready to pack up the car or board the plane and journey for several hours to your favorite locale. You’ve worked hard all year long, and you deserve a break. You can’t wait to feel the sweet relief you know you will feel when you finally get to sprawl out on your beach chair, bathe in the shimmering sun, sip an ice-cold piña colada and immerse yourself in some particularly trashy novel. This vacation is what keeps you from going crazy the rest of the year; it’s the only chance you get to seriously care for your exhausted, overextended self. In an overworked, under-rested culture, this vacation is holy, sanctified time.
But right as you’re about to turn to the first page of the latest addition to the Fifty Shades of Grey series, your phone goes off. You know you should have left it in the bedroom—you’ve read all the articles about how technology is destroying our attempts to disconnect and recharge—but you just can’t resist updating your Facebook status and sending some Snapchats to your friends still stuck in their 9-to-5 doldrums. Once you’ve sufficiently chastised yourself, you pick up the phone and see it’s the office calling, and you’re initially tempted to let it ring so that you can remain forever in the paradise you’ve recently arrived in. But after a few seconds of guilty non-responsiveness you come to your senses and resign yourself to answering. You know that they wouldn’t interrupt you for no reason at all. You have an important job and have knowledge and skills that others don’t. They must need you.
So you pick up the phone. It turns out, they tell you, that one of your company’s major clients is at a conference in the exact same location you’re in—at the very same hotel, actually—and they could really use some extra assistance in the next few days. Would you be willing to drop your plans to relax and spend the rest of your vacation tending to the client? You could stay in the same hotel and still look out at the same glorious view of the beach—you just wouldn’t get to go outside because you’d be working the whole time. They know it’s a lot to ask, but this is a really big client and it would mean a great deal to the company. What do you do?
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus and his disciples face a similar dilemma. They’ve been working hard, exhausting themselves in teaching, healing and otherwise spreading the Good News. They’ve been working so hard, in fact, that Jesus thinks it’s about time they take a vacation. He recognizes that for their own health it would be good to separate themselves for a bit from the work that only seems to pile up in front of them—and so they head to Provincetown or Rehoboth Beach or Disney World to spend some time just on themselves for a change. But a funny thing happens when they get to their vacation spot of choice: the crowd they had traveled for so long to escape—the source of all the work that had made them so tired—is already there. Apparently the crowd had been following the disciples’ blog and social media accounts and, upon discovering where Jesus and the disciples were headed, decided they would tag along—as groupies, so to speak. The crowd was affected with such tremendous enthusiasm for the holy entourage that they arrived ahead of them, ensuring that Jesus and the disciples would not have even a moment for rest or respite. It’s as if Taylor Swift traveled to a remote island only to find thousands of her biggest fans waiting for an immediate impromptu concert or as if Barack Obama was greeted on his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard by throngs of people who refused to leave until they received a Presidential audience. Jesus must feel a little frustrated and annoyed, with his big getaway taking on a completely different shape than he intended, but remarkably he humors the crowd. He doesn’t lock himself in a hotel room, calling for room service, or send out press releases, pleading for privacy. He simply gets back to work, teaching and healing and showing compassion with as much energy as he had before. So much for a vacation.
I mention this aspect of the Gospel reading today not because I’m against vacations. I’m certainly in agreement that many of us work ourselves to unnecessary and even unhealthy extents and that our busy, capitalist culture does not allow sufficient time for rest and reflection. I can also assure that you I will be taking full advantage of all of my vacation days. No, I don’t think this reading is calling us to give up vacations forever and to work from now until eternity. Instead, I think it demonstrates for us the potential value of being interrupted. Jesus and his disciples had a plan—they were going away to rest—until they were faced with suffering people who needed their help. When Jesus saw there was important work that he had to do, he did not hesitate to scrap his plans for a quiet, uncomplicated time away. He did not hesitate to revise his course, to be interrupted—and he made many lives better as a result.
I wonder if there’s something in your life right now that could use some interruption—if you’re stuck going down a path that isn’t very productive or that could simply benefit from a little realignment. I wonder if there are people or concerns or opportunities you are failing to see because you are so focused on what you have planned and what you think you want. What do you and the world lose when you insist on staying the course? What healing might happen, what learning might take place if only you would let yourself be interrupted?
As you enjoy your own summer vacation in the next few weeks, whether that vacation is on the other side of the world or a retreat in your own home living room, by all means relax—sleep in, open up a book, cool off in the pool, binge on Netflix. But amidst your refreshment and leisure, take some time to think about how God may be interrupting the trajectory of your life and reorienting you in an entirely new direction. And don’t dismiss the interruption all too hastily. After all, not all interruptions are bad: an interruption could lead you to the most significant discovery of your life; an interruption could bring you more joy than you ever thought you could experience. But you have to be ready to pursue the direction in which God’s interruption might lead. You have to be willing to take a working vacation.