What stands out to me in this text is Jesus saying, when confronted by Lazarus’ sickness, that the end of this will not be death, but God being glorified. This is a phrase similar to what Jesus uses in John 9 when asked who sinned that a man would be born blind – the man, his parents or someone else? Sin has nothing to do with it, Jesus says. This happened so that God’s glory might be made known through this man’s disability and subsequent transforming into a seeing person.
So Jesus stays, knowing full well that though this will not end in death, death will come for Lazarus. Jesus waits until Lazarus is buried, because he knows that at that point his healing of Lazarus will not just reveal him as a miracle-working prophet but as the Source of Life who makes all things live and breathe and have their being now taken on flesh among them. Jesus waits until the time in which this healing is not just healing but at least in the eyes of the people a raising of the dead, so that they can know Jesus as Life-giver both in this world and the next and thus the One who reveals the path to life.
As I read this story I cannot but think of my work as a chaplain. “Why did he have to get sick now?” “If she’s going to die, why must it drag on and suffer so long?” “Why did he pass so quickly and abruptly?” So often our grief centers on timing.
In things less serious than death and illness, we wonder too about timing. I am applying for work. Why must I keep waiting, searching, to find the right job? We keep trying to have children, yet none come. Why? I keep looking for that special someone, but keep missing the mark in the folks I date. Why?
Ultimately there is not one right answer to these questions, and sometimes there is no answer that assuages the pain and frustration we experience.
Yet Jesus’ example reminds me to be patient and open. It may be that God is working out a different plan, a plan bigger than me. Perhaps the sudden illness and passing that is so shocking saves me or the one I love heartaches that God can see along the way that I cannot. Perhaps the pro-longed suffering gives family members who have not yet made their peace either with the passing person who is sick, or themselves, time to do so. Perhaps the job does not come because God is giving me time to work through personal issues in my heart that need to be resolved first, or giving me time for education that prepares me or to be there for family and friends. Perhaps the loved one or child is not there yet so I can find time and energy to strengthen my own relationship with God or work on my own inner healing first so that I will be ready to be the person they need.
We cannot know always why things happen so differently in timing than we not, and I am certainly not suggesting every situation is as simple as this. But the example of Jesus reminds me to be patient with myself, with God, and with others. It calls me to trust that my life is held, safe in hands able to carry me. It calls me to trust God has a bigger and better plan than me.
I believe it calls us all to reach for that kind of faith, even if we like the disciples and Lazarus’ family cannot muster it in this moment. For, after all, Jesus is able to carry us even when we cannot believe. He is trustworthy when our trust fails.