Sideswiped by the Trivial

What do you think when you hear the Biblical name, Lazarus? When I asked a 30-year old friend who doesn’t attend church, I received a blank stare. Oh well. I thought everybody knew!

There’s no Lazarus mentioned in the Old Testament. The name, derived from the Hebrew Eleazar (by way of both Latin and Greek), can be translated, “God has helped.” Lazarus appeared only in the New Testament: once as a named character in a parable and, on several occasions, as Mary and Martha’s brother . . . who was raised from the dead by Jesus.

The 5th Sunday of Lent – for April 10, 2011

“After having heard that Lazarus was ill, he (Jesus) waited two days longer in the place where he was…” (John 11:6)

Persons might be described as “Lazarus-like” if they metaphorically returned from the dead (after a divorce) or literally escaped death (surviving a plane crash). Like Judas (a betrayer) or Job (one who suffers), Lazarus can be used without Biblical knowledge.

But I read the Lazarus account (John 11:1-45) and frequently never get to the dramatic conclusion. I am sideswiped by the trivial. Yes, I know how the story ends. And yes, I can teach a class or preach a sermon on the details of Lazarus’ rising, of Jesus’ trust in God, of the traditions and symbolism that enrich this complex miracle story. However, verse six tossed a banana in my path: “After having heard that Lazarus was ill, he (Jesus) waited two days longer in the place where he was.”

Two days longer. Jesus waited. Really?

We live in a society that doesn’t like to wait. We hurry, worry, zoom, fret, rush, and count nanoseconds rather than minutes. Is it done yet? Why are you taking so long? I wanted that yesterday! Continue reading →

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N is for . . .


Negotiating with God has many fine Biblical examples. Confronted by God, Adam blames Eve for his forbidden snack in a bid to cast blame elsewhere. Moses thought his brother Aaron a better choice to guide the escaping Israelites. Most of the prophets mentioned they preferred their safer, day jobs. Many of Paul’s letters, delivered over long distance by hand, include pleas or hopes or reminders of past agreements that were slow-motion negotiation. Didn’t Jesus negotiate at Gethsemane, when he asked for the cup to pass from him? He spoke metaphorically, but bargaining was an ingredient in the drink’s holy mix.

Humans negotiate. Doesn’t the Holy? The Bible reveals a God who can and will change. Still, I think of God as less a negotiator and more a Creator willing to wait a long time for humans to mature. In the Eden myth, with the closed gates guarded by flaming swords, and Adam and Eve trudging away, where does the story place God? With, not separate from, those foolish humans. Negotiating never seems as divinely important as companionship.

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The Man With No Name

In the spaghetti westerns that established Clint Eastwood as a global star, his characters were known as “the man with no name.” The credits listed names, like Blondie in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly or Joe in a Fistful of Dollars, but Eastwood’s antiheroes were really anonymous drifters, like high plains wraiths without a past or future.

The man with no name . . . (photo from

The 4th Sunday of Lent – for April 3, 2011

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth… (John 9:1)

The ninth chapter of John’s Gospel depicted a different type of “man with no name.” And yet one thing is decidedly the same because for forty-one verses—for what is one of the longest stretches of Gospel covering a single person’s story outside of the Holy Week events—the “hero’s” name is never mentioned. Instead the hero is called: “blind from birth,” “this man,” “a beggar,” “formerly blind,” “son,” “of age,” “disciple,” and “sinner.” In the NRSV, within those forty-one verses, the central figure is unimaginatively called “man” at least ten times. The print’s so small in the Bible I use for study, I didn’t attempt to count the uses of the more mundane “he.”

Poor fellow. We never know his name!

In the vast sweep of the story, from the first encounter with “the man,” through Jesus’ healing of his blindness, and all the way to the end where “the man’s” neighbors run him out of town, we never know what to call him. Even in the scene with his parents—his parents!—they mention him by using the phrase, “he is of age.” I felt like screaming: speak his name! At least call him Blondie or Joe before he drifts away from the story. Continue reading →

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