When I was turning on my computer this morning, for some unknown reason the title of the following chapter of one of my books appeared on the screen. I have not looked at this book on the computer for several months, so I have no idea why this happened, but my thought was the perhaps someone needs to read it. It might be you.
A SOLITARY PLACE
The Gospel of Mark is the shortest and fastest-moving of all the gospels. The author does not elaborate a great deal on each of Jesus’s episodes or the disciples’ lives, but simply and quickly moves from one to the next, often using the word immediately to connect two incidents. It perhaps should not be surprising that Mark should write this way, because (as it is commonly thought) Mark wrote his gospel from accounts given to him by the Apostle Peter, with whom he traveled on his preaching circuit. Peter himself was a man who was rather economical with his words and was, as we know, a man who quickly moved from one event to the next. Although Mark may have written in the hurried style of ministry that he shared with Peter, I have my doubts if Mark was of this same, impetuous temperament in his personality.
Mark sometimes writes as if he is a little out of breath as he followed the apostle Peter in his travels. Mark alone, of all the gospel writers, in telling about the ministry of Jesus with his disciples, mentions a couple of times that they were so busy that they did not even have time to eat (Mark 3:20; 6:31).
I find it a little amusing that Mark writes in this way, since he was not even present with the disciples when these times of going without meals occurred. Nevertheless, I can imagine Mark listening to Peter tell him about those days and being quite impressed by this fact. The ministry of Peter almost certainly still had some of those same active characteristics, and Mark could probably relate well to this when Peter told him about it. Perhaps Mark, in his own personality, would have taken things at a bit more moderate pace—just possibly.
The Need for Solitude
More than any of the gospel writers, Mark seems to take note of the times when Jesus went off by Himself to a secluded place where He could be alone for a little while. And Mark is the only one of the gospel writers who makes note of one specific thing that Jesus said to His disciples at a crucial point in their lives. Perhaps what Jesus said to the disciples on this occasion was not so significant, and yet, it is significant enough for Mark to have recorded it.
On this occasion, Jesus had just sent the twelve disciples out on a journey. Actually, they went out in pairs on separate journeys. Jesus told them to take nothing for their own preparations except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money, nothing. What Jesus did give them for their journey, however, was authority over unclean spirits.
So the disciples went out and “preached that people should repent.” We are told that the disciples also “drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them” (Mark 6:12-13). I am sure that their journeys were filled with activities of all sorts, and the demands upon them were great. On these types of ministries, sleep is never adequate, and fatigue begins to build. After a time (we do not know how long), the disciples returned very excited about their short-term mission trip. They were full of stories about all they had done and taught.
The very next event after this in the lives of Jesus and His disciples is the significant and famous story of the feeding of the five thousand people. The other synoptic gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, mention in both of their accounts that at the return of the disciples from their travels, that Jesus took the disciples with Him as He went to find a place where He could have some rest (Matthew 14:13; Luke 9:10). However, if we would only have these two accounts, it might even seem as if Jesus looked for the opportunity for Himself to be alone but did not necessarily communicate the importance of this to the disciples.
It was only the gospel writer Mark who tells us of a simple phrase that Jesus said to the disciples at this point. Ordinarily, in his action-packed style of writing, we would expect Mark to next write, “Immediately after these things,” and then move on to the feeding of the five thousand. Both Matthew and Luke pause very little at this point in their narrative, and in their writings, they quickly begin telling about that next event. But Mark departs from his normal style of writing to add something that Jesus said to the disciples.
“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while,” Jesus told His disciples (Mark 6:31, NAS).
Mark then pauses further to emphasize the fact that many people were coming and going and to mention, as he had on one other occasion, that Jesus and His disciples did not even have time to eat. He then continues, “They went away in a boat to a secluded place by themselves.”
A Society That Dissuades Solitude
Jesus’s words about going to a secluded place demonstrate a need that we all must address in our lives and that is reflected in Jesus’s own life. Jesus often sought quiet times. It sometimes was difficult for them to find those times. Ours is a society that is constantly on the move and in which personal solitary times are becoming increasingly rare. We have for so long lived without solitude, we no longer even know how to be alone. Any observation of the mannerisms of people show us that it seems that if we do ever find ourselves alone, we must either be plugged into our iPods or talking on our cellular phones to drown out the noise of silence.
Lives that are to have meaning cannot continue in this way. In order to understand and process all of the activities that are going on around us and in which we ourselves are involved, we must seek some time when we can and find a “secluded place” to reflect on all that is happening and to bring it all before God. We need solitary times to process that which is occurring in the course of our lives. Not to do so will result in ourselves being carried along by the capricious nature of life instead of ourselves directing where life should carry us.
The Pattern for Solitude
Mark took special note of this need of solitude. In one of the very first incidents that he records in the life of Jesus, Mark tells of how Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, who had been lying sick and with a fever. When the news of that healing began to be spread about the town, Mark writes:
When evening came, after the sun had set, they [the people of the city] began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.
Mark 1:32-34 (NAS)
This event in Jesus’s life demonstrates the nature of the daily pressures for Jesus. The crowds were constantly pressing in on His presence. Their needs were so numerous and so great. The needs were not merely physical needs such as need of food and healing of illnesses, but they were also spiritual in their nature. The needs of the people included the casting out of demons. Jesus found Himself in constant battle with the demons. It is in the midst of all of these pressing needs that Mark again tells us of something that Jesus did. “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there” (Mark 1:35, NAS).
Alas, the time for Jesus in His secluded place was short-lived. His disciples were searching for Him and found Him out. “Everyone is looking for you,” they told Jesus. Indeed. The demand was constantly there.
So Jesus continued His ministry, because, as He told the disciples:
“Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Mark 1:38-39 (NIV)
The life of Jesus continued in its hectic pace. Mark, I think, was a bit exhausted just hearing about it, and took special note of the times when Jesus took time out for prayer and reflection.
“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while,” Jesus told His disciples.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:28 (ESV)