Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
“Immediately” is a big word in Mark. It appears all over the place and helps him convey the urgency of Jesus’ message and mission, the nearness of the kingdom, and a sense of impending destiny. In short, it pushes the story – and those of us reading it – forward.
There is a slight irony at this particular point of the story, though, when it comes to the hurried, urgent sense of immediacy that is so common in Mark’s gospel. Because while Jesus immediately makes – not invites or asks, notice, but makes – his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead, he does this in order that he can slow down.
Well, not quite. He makes them go on ahead and then he dismisses the crowd. No small undertaking, when you recall that he has just feed 5000 men (and we have no idea how many women and children came along). Interestingly, his ability to send the crowd happily on its way confirms the disciples’ initial instinct that Jesus really could do what he wants with his legion of followers. But it’s a matter of timing. Earlier he taught and fed them. Now he sends them on their way.
Why all this urgency and action? In order to slow down, to retreat, to find time and solitude to pray. Rush, rush, rush…now stop and pray.
But maybe this only feels ironic. Maybe it’s not the action we should be paying attention to but the intent. Maybe sometimes you have to be urgent and intentional to cultivate your spiritual life. Maybe, that is, Jesus needs to withdrawal, to be away from both disciples’ and followers, and just pray.
I have a hunch that we have times like that, too. That we need to have a sense of urgency to get the things done that most need being done in order to withdrawal, to find a moment of quiet, and to pray. Prayer, that is, matters. Not because it’s a moral obligation. Not because it’s a command. Not because God needs us to pray. But simply because we need to stop, to be quiet, to be still, and in the solitude of prayer remember who we are by allowing God to remind us whose we are – God’s own beloved children.
And that, I think, is a matter of urgency.
Prayer: Dear God, draw us away from the rush and activity that consumes most of our lives in order to be still, be quiet, and hear you call us back to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.