“Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.” John 6.1-4
“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.” – Henri Nouwen
Jesus was busy. There came a time in his ministry when the crowds were so large that he had to sit in a boat, some distance from shore, just to teach them. Jesus was busy but not the kind of busyness that we brag about in our culture. He had a lot to do (yes, that is a form of busyness) but his work was purpose-filled.
He did not fill his time with meaningless meetings, event planning or lots of paperwork. He wasn’t sitting behind a desk hoping people would knock on his door and wanting to be healed. Nor did he remain in the synagogue for hours on end planning the next “big thing” to attract more people.
Jesus was, like Henri Nouwen states, present with people. He practiced what we call the ministry of presence. Which in my words is the intentional development of relationships with people to show and share the love of God.
The ministry of presence is a lot of what I do now as a pastor. Sure, I still plan a few events each year, but for the most part, my calling is to sit with people – to listen, to hear, to counsel and to love. For our modern American culture, this seems like a waste of time. Culture would tell us we are not using our time well unless we are on an electronic device 12 hours a day or in meetings planning God-knows-what!
But Jesus was with people. In these first few verses in John 6, before he performs any miracles, he crossed the Sea of Galilee where a great crowd followed him and sat down with his disciples. Now we know that rabbis taught from sitting down but they also just sat down to rest, to converse, to eat, and to be with people. In this instance, I interpret Jesus sitting with the twelve as practicing the ministry of presence.
Our challenge today is clear — practice the ministry of presence. Allow him to use you to love others by merely being with them. Don’t think of yourself as unproductive if all you do today is sit and care for those around you. You will become more like Jesus than you could ever imagine.
“O Lord God, thank you for loving me. Thank you for allowing us to stop, sit, rest and listen both to you and others. Thank you Jesus that in your busyness, you stopped. You met with people, you ate with them, you cared for them. Help us to be more like you in word and in deed. I praise you Holy Spirit for the power of your grace and the strength of your might. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen