THE HOLY GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
ACCORDING TO MATTHEW
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
Sermon: Jesus and Self-Care
When was the last time you were stressed out??
When was the last time you were on the verge of tears because everything felt like it was just too much? Like too many people, wanted too many things? Like you were spread thin and had nothing more to give?
I am guessing that many if not all of us are probably thinking, “yup, that’s me, right now, I know it well.” Our world, our jobs, our families, and, a lot of the time, we, ourselves, demand a lot…require a lot…that in the process we end up carrying so much that it takes a toll on many aspects of our lives. We burn out, we become less loving towards each other, we can barely think straight…our mental and physical health declines.
And when we experience this kind of stress, feel the true weight of all that is demanded of us…our response is often to keep going, ignoring what our bodies and those around us might be saying. I know that this is what I have done for years…I am the type of person, as I am sure many of you are too, who pushes through no matter what. Who takes on more and more, who keeps working as hard as possible, despite what I feel inside. And when I try and take a proper break, spend a day doing nothing, I feel guilty and can’t help but think of all the things I need to do.
In fact, our world tells us that to work hard without breaks is a sign of strength. That to give in to the needs of our bodies is weakness, to take personal time is selfish. Even our Christian faith, we hear the call to suffer for others…to be good Christians, we must sacrifice ourselves.
But, in today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges all of this. Often when we hear today’s Gospel we get distracted by the story of Peter, his attempt to walk on water and his near drowning. But before we even get to this point in the narrative, we read: “After Jesus had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.”
Although the Gospel doesn’t tell us exactly why Jesus dismisses the crowds and goes off alone, we can fill this narrative gap by remembering that Jesus, while the son of God, is also a human being. In the Gospels we see Jesus’ humanity come through his character when he weeps, gets angry, is harsh with his family. If we accept Jesus’ humanity this means that he would also have shared a lot of our own struggles.
Maybe, for Jesus, being constantly surrounded by people, asking him to heal them or teach them, led him to experience the physical, emotional, and spiritual fatigue that we all know so well. The constant pressure of everyone’s demands caused Jesus to feel stressed out, on the verge of tears, like too many people wanted too many things from him, like he was stretched thin.
And what Jesus does in response to this is not what we often do…he doesn’t keep going and going, pushing through. But he sends the crowds away and goes off on his own.
Today, Jesus models that it is ok to dismiss the demands in our lives and to take time for ourselves…it is ok to take a break. The importance of self care, looking after our own well being is one of the messages of our Gospel…Jesus is showing us that when life is overwhelming and the demands feel like they are just too much, we need to take time to ensure that our needs are met. And yes, sometimes it will be hard to do this…it is hard not to feel guilty, not to feel selfish. It is hard to do nothing, to re-create, to take quiet time. But today, this is exactly what Jesus shows us we must do.
I guess, if we want to be of any help to anyone, we must look after ourselves. If we are called to love our neighbour as ourselves, this necessarily means that we must love ourselves. But, loving ourselves is way harder than loving someone else. We push ourselves to the brink, we sacrifice ourselves over and over, ignoring our needs in the process. But I think Jesus is reminding us that we need to love ourselves and by doing this, by just taking a little time alone, away from the demands, we will be stronger in the process….we will be more able to continue our faith journeys, live out our call in this world, we will be more able to care for those who need us.
One scholar writes, “Self-care may be a political act of resistance for anyone overwhelmed by challenges caused by the superman or superwoman syndrome.” Jesus was known for challenging the norms of his world, for resisting the structures around him when he ate and drank with those cast out by society. Today when he dismisses the crowds and goes off alone, this is another act of resistance. Jesus is modelling that while, yes, people need him, he also has value, his well being matters. And in doing this, Jesus offers us a powerful example for how we can respond to the stresses in our own lives, how we can respond to those moments when we feel so overwhelmed that we are on the verge of tears, when we have people wanting too many things, when we are spread thin and feel like we have nothing more to give…Jesus shows us that, even though it can be difficult to do, we must dismiss all of it, we must go off alone, and we must ensure that we love ourselves.
Check Out Working Preacher for more on this topic: Working Preacher Matthew 14:22-33