“Isolation is the sum total of wretchedness to a man.”
The passage we’re tackling Sunday begins and ends in “desolate places.”
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he (Jesus) departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
But he (the leper who was healed) went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
This word translated “desolate” by the ESV can be defined as “isolated or unfrequented places.” Isolation isn’t always a bad thing. After a busy day, time alone reflecting and recharging one’s batteries can be a very good thing. I can’t imagine how exhausted Jesus must have been after the long Sabbath-evening that precedes verse 35, where He was “healing many with diseases” and “casting out demons” into the late night hours. All in a day’s work for God in the flesh I suppose, but Jesus was human too. The early morning trek to a desolate place offered Him respite and rejuvenation in fellowship with the Father.
The passage also ends in a desolate place. Over the 10 verses between these desolate places, Jesus travelled from town to town preaching the gospel, healed a leper, and then effectually could no longer freely travel about because of the miracle-seeking mobs that pursued Him.
It doesn’t take a lot of persuasion to convince me that the idea of isolation that bookends this passage is more than coincidence. It’s also in the heart of the passage as Jesus cleanses the leper (I’ll speak to this quite a bit in my message on Sunday).
At the outset Jesus embraces isolation in order to re-charge and rejuvenate so that He could re-engage His primary mission (preaching the gospel). At the close of the passage He is driven into isolation because of the overwhelming response of human need. His would be a life marked by isolation that culminated in a death “outside the camp.” At His death he would be deserted by those closest to Him, shamed by those who hated Him, and brutally crucified for them all.
He came to accept isolation so that we could live free from it.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.