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!

Once, at a church summer camp, my cabin’s counselor twisted his ankle. He was playing a game with us and, suddenly, down he went. Some kid raced away to get the nurse.

I remember the nurse arriving, walking slowly, and looking from the frenzied boys and girls to the injured counselor. I blurted something like, “I wish she’d hurry.” And the counselor, though I don’t recall his exact words, said something about how thankful he was that she took her time.

I thought, “Huh?”

Later he told me he was glad she hadn’t arrived short of breath or agitated. Instead, making levelheaded decisions, she cared for the counselor and calmed the anxious campers. Me? I’m still figuring out how to be more like her.

When I helped start a church, I took a series of workshops for “new church pastors.” One of the sessions involved time management. The leader shared a story. (And I think he “borrowed” the example from Stephen Covey.)

In a class, a teacher holds up an empty, wide-mouthed container about the size of a half-gallon milk carton. The teacher fills the container with rocks as large as fists. Can it hold more? No, the students say.

The teacher adds “river rocks,” like those used for landscaping. These smaller, smoother stones tumble down and fill in the empty spaces. Can the container hold more? No, the students say.

Pea-sized pebbles are next. And the container fills. Then sand. And the container fills again.

Any more room? Rocks, stones, pebbles, sand. No more room, the students say. The teacher pours in water. Lots of water.

And the teacher asks, “What’s the point?”

Almost always, a student will answer, “There’s always room for something more to do.”

But the teacher replies, “Or, make sure to focus on the most important things first.” Those big rocks, and let’s say they are the hard-edged metaphors for what’s most important in life, will never fit if the water or sand goes first.

Anne Lamott wrote, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

Jesus waited. I know, in the account of Lazarus rising, that a huge miracle-laden “lesson” will come by the end of the chapter. Theologians debate it. Believers point to Lazarus rising as proof of Jesus’ divinity or God’s omnipotence. And yet, on most days, I just need to be sideswiped by the trivial.

I think of Lazarus, also known as Eleazar. God has helped . . . and God will help. On my best days, during Lent’s rock-laden and sandy path, I believe in waiting, and taking the time to discern what’s most important.

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