In this Lenten series I would like to invite you to consider Jesus’ “outstretched arms of love” toward all who followed him as disciples, seeking to emulate his life, self-sacrifice, and humble service to others. Today we will reflect on one distinct time and way Jesus stretched out his arms of love to all who beheld his glory, believed his message, belonged as his disciples, and sought to become more and more like his image and with more of their true identity in Christ Alone.
Read Mark 1: 35-39; 6:45-56 and Luke 5:16
Jesus often withdrew to lonely, solitary places and prayed.
In the first chapter of Mark, we are reminded of Jesus’ ministry throughout Galilee. He proclaims the good news of God, and calls the first of his disciples. “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men” he pronounces to Peter and Andrew, James and John, all who were fishermen by trade were now fishermen by ministry. He goes on to Capernaum, teaching in the synagogue, driving an evil spirit out of the man who was violently distraught and sets him free. He heals Simon’s mother in-law and many others who were sick and demon-possessed. More and more examples of his outstretched arms of love.
But, very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. When the disciples found him, they urged him to return to the towns they had served the day prior, but Jesus leads them instead into nearby villages to share the good news.
In the second incident, after the feeding the five thousand, Jesus sends his disciples across the lake ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismisses the crowd. Immediately thereafter, Jesus leaves them all and went into the hills to pray. Since the disciples didn’t really understand what had transpired in the miracle of the loaves and fish, their hearts were hardened. So, when Jesus is coming alongside them walking on water while the wind was howling and they were straining their oars, he had to reassure them of his presence amidst their terror. “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” When he climbed into the boat the wind died down and the disciples were completely amazed.
Do you notice the contrast between the calm, peace-filled Jesus and the anxious, fearful disciples? In the first story the disciples are ecstatic with what they had witnessed, and they wanted to see it all again. On the lake, they were frightened by both the wind storm and the ghost they thought was walking on the water, who was actually Jesus. From ecstasy to fearfulness…the inclination of the disciples was diametrically opposite of Jesus, who was consistently centered, focused, and peaceful.
If it was Jesus’ regular priority to distance himself from the crowds, disappear from the noise and confusion of his surroundings, in order to pray…how much more we should consider the same. We live in a loud, busy, complex world, and our lives mirror our culture in so many ways. If we never find a healthy distance or create life-giving boundaries from the cacophony of this world, we will never hear the symphony God longs to play for us in our hearts and souls. Choose today a solitary place and pray.
Behold Jesus in a solitary place; believe in the same priority for your own soul; belong to those who long for his deep companionship; become that child of God who longs for ever more time alone with Jesus.