Governments proclaim the need for rest Dave RogalskyAugust 6 2017
Theme: Rest, like many other things that are good for us, is a choice, an exertion of the will. It`s good for us, and God lets us choose.
Scriptures: Isaiah 55:1-5, Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21
The origin of Civic (Holi)Day goes back to the late 1800s when the government decided citizens needed another “day of relaxation” during the summer, and it’s continued to change form over the years.1
There are references to civic holidays dating back to the mid-1850s when various cities in Upper Canada (now Ontario) began to have a public holiday in August (eg, London, 1856; Hamilton, 1862) or at the close of summer (eg, Toronto, 1861 and the town of Guelph, 1862). The date of the holiday varied year by year and was proclaimed by the mayor. Shops were closed and the day was spent with picnics and railway and steamer excursions. The idea spread quickly, even into neighbouring Manitoba; Winnipeg had its first public holiday in 1874. The civic holiday eventually solidified on the first Monday of August.2
The Civic Holiday gives us an interesting look into the nature of rest. While the holiday is proclaimed in some form over most of Canada, it is not a statutory holiday in all places – it’s not a statutory holiday in Ontario. That means that while the government thinks it’s a good idea for us to rest, they don`t make employers give it, or employees take it. That means we need to think about rest, test our feelings, and exert our wills. Rest, the government says we need it, and then leaves it up to us to get it.
This scripture starts off with a government acting badly. The Herodian kings in Palestine were an interesting mixture of Jewish and eastern pagan behaviour. Herod the Great got his right to rule from the Roman senate instead of the Jewish temple priests. He tried, at least somewhat, to live a Jewish life. It was said that his pigs were safer than his sons. That’s a play on words in Greek – his Χοίροs were safer than his uioiß. He had several of his sons executed – at least one for being involved in a plot to poison him. He married off his granddaughter to one of his sons. She is the Herodias in this story. Such intermarriage behaviour was not approved of by Jewish law, but was common among eastern potentates like the Pharaohs and Mithradates, kings in Syria, Persia, Asia Minor, and what is now the Ukraine.
Herodias broke with Jewish law and divorced Herod II and married his brother, Herod Antipas. Both of these men were her half uncles – same father, different mothers. Herodias had a daughter, Salome, by her first husband. This girl was not the Herod in this story’s daughter, but his half, great-niece.
This family was a nasty piece of work altogether.
John the Baptist was strict on ethics. He criticized Herod Antipas and Herodias for getting married. The divorce rankled him, as did probably all the incestuous and intergenerational marriages. Herod was an absolute ruler. Whatever he wanted he could do, so long as he didn’t make himself to odious in the eyes of the Roman over-rulers. So Herod had John arrested. But he stopped short of executing him, knowing that if he did the people would rise up and then he could be removed for not keeping the peace for the Romans.
But as the story progresses, when Herodias, through Salome, asked for John’s head, Herod had the deed done, not wanting to lose face in front of his drinking buddies before whom he had made the promise to the young Salome. In a gory twist young Salome takes the head to her mother.
John the Baptist was Jesus` cousin. When he heard the news he wanted to get away by himself to process this shock. There will probably have been a lot of grief, with all its components of anger, sadness, physical and psychic pain, disorientation, and anxiety. Especially anxiety since Jesus could correctly wonder if he would be next. If Herod got away with this, would he reach further and arrest and execute Jesus?
Jesus knew what he needed, and he went to get it, time alone, in solitude, to pray, think, plan, listen to God. It was his regular practice, and what he did in times of need. But instead what he got was a crowd of people, hungry both for healing, his teaching, and for food. The gospel tells us “he had compassion on them.” He felt deeply that he needed to care for them so he changed his direction and spent the day healing, teaching and eventually feeding them.
By this point he must have been deeply exhausted. His emotions would have been scrambled and his energies gone. As the meal was wrapping up “he made the disciples get into a boat” and leave. The gospel uses a very strong word – Jesus basically herded the disciples into a boat and said, “Go! Go now.” Just a bit short tempered if feels.
Then he “dismissed the crowd.” The word the writer used can mean “send away, release, put away” – in the sense of out of sight and out of mind. Again, Jesus seems in a bit of a hurry. “OK folks, dinner’s over. Time to go. Now.” Firm, no profanity, but no questions asked. “Go.”
Finally he went up into the hills, completely alone, “to pray.” Jesus chose what he needed in spite of others’ needs around him, in spite of the potential for greater fame, or greater reach of his teaching. He needed time alone, time with God, time to rest, and time to centre himself so that he would do what God was calling him to do. He had done this before. IN Mark 1 we read that he had healed Peter’s mother-in-law and that then many came for healing. The next morning he went out to pray. When he came back from the hills he refocused his ministry away from healing and toward teaching. (See Mark 1:29-39) I wonder if when people asked for more food, the day after feeding the five thousand (see John 6:22-27), he wondered if in his tiredness he had made a mistake to feed the crowd.
There are more than enough good things for us to do. There are more than enough places to spend our money, our time, our interests, our energy. We need to know what is of most importance to us and choose to do that. Society with all its needs will keep on calling for our help. Advertisers and businesses with their goods and services will keep on asking for our money. Good causes will ask for our time and talents. Even people we love will ask of us. We need to decide and then do what is important. In the end Jesus knew he needed to begin mourning, and rest. He pushed the disciples into a boat and sent them off. He dismissed the crowd. He went and got what he needed.
This has all kinds of applications in our lives.
What do you need to be a centred and balanced person?
What helps you to feel good about yourself and the world around you?
What helps you to relate well with others?
What are your priorities?
Where do you spend your money? Self, others, donations, purchases, savings?
Where and on what do you spend your time? We all need all kinds of activities and rest. We all can serve, play, work, rest. What is the balance for you?
Where do you use your talents?
How will you spend your energy? On work? On relationships? On experiences? On earning money to buy things?
In a minute I’m going to get you to think back to a time in your life when you were truly happy. Just sit with that for a minute. What was it about that time that made you happy? Could you make room in your life for more of that thing or practice or those things or practices? Could that be your priority, those your priorities? Could these priorities point to your values? How would that effect things like relationships, experiences, work, others, self, rest, God?
The government tells us we need to rest, and then asks us to choose, to act.