The pastor began his sermon on Sunday July 18, by noting that the Gospel reading (Mark 6:30-34) contained a joke. This humorous incident begins with Jesus saying to his disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” So they set off in a boat to be by themselves. The people see them leaving and tell their neighbors. So folks from all the nearby towns hurry off to the vacation spot ahead of Jesus and his weary disciples. When the wannabe vacationers get out of the boat, they see the vast crowd. Consistent with his character, Jesus’ heart is filled with compassion: he sees these people as sheep without a shepherd, and he begins to teach them many things.
As I pictured that scene I began to chuckle, for it reminded me of the hilarious movie What About Bob? Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) is mentally ill. From various incidents we discover that Bob suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, hypochondria, multiple phobias, as well as a very dependent personality. Indeed, Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) is about to discover what he’s gotten himself into by taking Bob on as his new patient.
During their first session, Dr. Marvin tells Bob that he will be on vacation during the month of August so they will not be able to meet for a month. But Bob wilily discovers that his new psychiatrist is vacationing on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee. So Bob audaciously shows up at Dr. Marvin’s vacation home.
This is where What About Bob? and Jesus’ intended timeout with his disciples intersect. When Bob crashes Dr. Marvin's family vacation, the psychiatrist is shocked and repeatedly tries to send Bob packing. But when the crowd crashes the Messiah’s retreat, Jesus rolls with the intrusion and ministers to the people.
Two virtues influence Bob Wiley as he “vacations” with the Marvin family. The first virtue is faith. Bob trusts Dr. Marvin and the principle explained in his new book, Baby Steps. Throughout the movie Bob takes “baby steps” to expand his behavioral horizons. He also overlooks Dr. Marvin’s outbursts and believes that the doctor’s inappropriate behavior is part of his therapy.
The second virtue is hospitality. Dr. Marvin’s family—his wife Fay (Julie Hagerty), daughter Anna (Katheryn Erbe), son Sigmund (Charlie Korsmo), and eventually sister Lily (Fran Brill)—welcome Bob and accept him unconditionally. It’s actually a mutual acceptance: Bob saw family portraits during his initial visit in Dr. Marvin’s office, so when he meets “the fam” at Lake Winnipesaukee he recognizes them, remembers their names and warmly greets them. What’s more, when Mr. and Mrs. Guttman, neighbors who have issues with Dr. Marvin, meet Bob, they offer him a place to stay.
As Bob basks in these virtues, he sheds his fears and reaches out to Dr. Marvin’s family, especially to his son and daughter, Siggy and Anna. Bob’s symptoms of mental illness gradually decrease. But Dr. Marvin finds it impossible to welcome Bob and work with him while he is on vacation. The doctor repeatedly rejects Bob, but Bob always comes back for more. As Bob’s symptoms decrease, Leo Marvin’s emotional distress increases such that he has to be hospitalized.
What About Bob? is, of course, a supposal: Suppose a severely mentally ill man discovers where his psychiatrist is vacationing and shows up for the help he so desperately needs. And suppose the psychiatrist refuses to welcome the man, but his family lovingly accepts him. In the real world, the psychiatrist would call the police and have the man arrested—or at least obtain a restraining order against him. The incident might appear on the local news, but that would be the end of it.
What About Bob? helps us see the irony, the joke, conveyed in Mark 6:30-34: Jesus and his disciples need rest, but the crowd rushes in with its own agenda. What’s more, this film serves as a backdrop to help us see the glory of our Lord’s response to needy people. Unlike Dr. Marvin, Jesus understands that these people are like sheep without a shepherd, and he begins to teach them many things. Jesus expresses the glory of God’s mercy as he shepherds his people. In contrast, Dr. Marvin goes crazy trying to deny Bob the attention he so desperately craves.
But what about the fact that Jesus and his disciples didn’t get their well-deserved retreat? There seems to be no rest for the weary. When I served as a pastor, passages like this used to frustrate me. I wondered why Jesus allowed his flock to rob him of rest. Why didn’t Jesus set better boundaries? I certainly didn’t get the joke, for as a pastor I had precious little time to recuperate. Was this situation a model for pastoral ministry? I hoped not!
Comparing Mark 6:30-34 with What About Bob? helps me realize that Jesus is the model for pastors, for parents, and for all who minister in Jesus’ name. First and most fundamentally, Jesus is our rest. He is the author and the source of restfulness (see Genesis 2:1-3; John 1:3; Colossians 1:15ff; Hebrews 4:9-16). Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was able to sleep even in the midst of a violent storm (Mark 4:35-41). We might say that Jesus is the essence of restfulness, for he told his disciples,
Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
Perhaps on this occasion Jesus was teaching his disciples the skill of resting “on location.”
Second, it’s apparent that Dr. Marvin’s refusal to work with Bob ends badly, whereas Jesus’ ministry to the crowd ends beautifully. By God’s grace we strive to set appropriate boundaries and minister to people as we rest in our Lord Jesus Christ. That is our lifelong challenge and opportunity.
© Stan Bohall
September 13, 2021