TODAY'S GOSPEL follows on from last Sunday's, which told of the sending-out of the twelve. Here it appears, though Mark does not precisely say so, that they are returning from the mission: "and the apostles gathered" (the verb here is connected with the word "synagogue") to Jesus and reported to him everything they had done and what they had taught".
Jesus clearly has it in mind to reward them for completing their mission (or trainingexercise, if that is what it was), "and he says to them: come yourselves on your own to a desert place, and repose for a little". And Mark gives an explanation for Jesus' solicitude "for those who were coming and going were many, and they had not even time to eat".
Now at this point, if we have been reading Mark's gospel attentively, alarm-bells should start to ring in our minds, for one commodity that Jesus never has is spare time.
From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus has been hemmed in by the crowds, and has been hardly able to move for people round him. And, indeed, the only occasion when he made any space at all for himself was by getting up in the middle of the night, when it was still dark, in order to pray. Even then, the crowds had been looking for him and Peter and the others tracked him down.
So we read the next sentence "and they went off in the boat to a deserted place all by themselves", conscious that this jars with the radical unselfishness that has marked Jesus' mission hitherto. And it is with no surprise, but almost a certain relief, that we find out what happens next: "and many people saw and perceived them going, and they ran together on foot from all the cities and got there before them".
One of the points that Mark is concerned to make throughout his work is that the gospel has a magnetic attraction, and that if it is really preached, the preacher will not have any time for himself or herself.
We modern Christians who observe this scene are torn between sympathy for the apostles who never got their "breather", and a slightly shame-faced awareness of our own need for "time off" from preaching the gospel. For Jesus and for Mark, the situation was so urgent that time off was unthinkable.
And in the very next sentence we are given to understand why this was so, and also why the crowds harried Jesus so relentlessly. It was not, or not principally, because of the healings that Jesus worked, but "because they were like sheep with no shepherd".
There are two elements to this: from the point of view of the "crowds", those who had no real place in the community of holiness that the Pharisees
sought to construct, but who nevertheless had perfectly genuine religious aspirations and desires of their own, found in Jesus the religious leadership they were looking for; "he began to teach them many things".
On Jesus' side, he took the crowds and their yearning for God seriously, and, unlike the religious establishment of the day, actually bothered to talk to them about God. Above all, Jesus goes out to them in love: "and he was moved with pity for them".
What this gospel invites us to do is to see the unchurched masses not as tiresome distractions, or obstacles in the way of our well-deserved rest, but as God's beloved humanity, yearning to discover the meaning of life, which they can find only in the one whom Jesus spoke of as Father. And it is we whom God asks to help them find it.