“A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early! He arrives PRECISELY when he means to!”
This exchange between Gandalf and Frodo from the Lord of the Rings came to my mind while praying over this gospel passage we have this weekend — the story of the raising of Lazarus.
News is brought to Jesus: “Master, the one you love is ill.” Lazarus, your friend, is sick!
And then we get this very strange verse that doesn’t seem to make sense…
“So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.”
Doesn’t Jesus know he’ll be late? Why the delay? Why isn’t he rushing to his friend’s side? Where’s the urgency? Where’s the concern? It says that Jesus loves Lazarus, and that he loves Mary and Martha… so why is he wasting time?
But Jesus is never late. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to!
I’m reminded of the lyrics from a Mumford and Sons song, where one verse says “I will love with urgency, but not with haste.”
Jesus won’t be rushed into hastiness. His hand can’t be forced. He can only do His Father will, and somehow — this apparent delay is all part of the plan. It’s all part of His love.
In the Imitation of Christ, Jesus says to the soul: “Always entrust your cause to me, my son. When the proper time comes, I will see that things turn out for the best. Wait for me to arrange matters, and you will realize how much better off you are for it.”
This is hard for us. Because we really want to rush forward to make tangible progress. We want results NOW. What’s wrong with that? Well… we end up confusing impatient, self-serving haste for the legitimate urgency of love.
This is one the biggest temptations I have in my priesthood right now — My gut reaction to most situations is to burst in, full blast, with no delay! I don’t want to wait around! I want to help Jesus save souls NOW… I want to allow God to heal people NOW, to teach people the fullness of Truth NOW… But perhaps I’m just being hasty? Maybe I need to learn how to trust God’s timing rather than my own?
When Jesus finally resolves to go back to Judea to help his friend Lazarus, his apostles warn him: “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?”
Jesus answered, completely unconcerned: “Are there not twelve hours in a day?”
What he means is: “This is not yet my Hour to die. Nobody can take my life from me. Don’t be afraid. I still have time. Our ETA is still right on schedule. I won’t be late! My Father’s timing is always perfect!”
Fulton Sheen, commenting on this said that: “No one could take from Jesus one single second of the appointed 12 hours of light with which He was to teach. And no one could hasten one second of the hour of darkness when He would go to His Death.”
Christ is totally in control. He’s not the passive victim of time. No!
He is the Lord of time.
Our problem, it seems to me anyways, is that we are always thinking in terms of time running out. We frantically try to horde what little time we have on this planet, imagining some ideal future — and when time inevitably starts to slip away from us, we start obsessing over the past. We can trap ourselves there, thinking about all the things that didn’t happen the way we thought they would… and we can all too easily give in to a kind of regret or despair.
We might even say things like Mary and Martha did in our gospel today: “If you had been here, Lord, my brother wouldn’t have died,” “I wouldn’t have lost that job” “My kids would still be going to church” “I wouldn’t have made that awful mistake,” “I wouldn’t have said those words,” “This tragedy wouldn’t have ever happened.”
Lord — “If only you would’ve done something… but you didn’t. And now….Now, it’s too late.”
But God is never late. Nor is He early!
He arrives precisely when He means to.
And besides, this sort of thinking is not how God sees time at all.
I’m currently guiding a group of parishioners through a book called the Tour of the Summa, which is basically a paraphrase of St. Thomas Aquinas’ great philosophical and theological work, the Summa Theologiae. We recently talked about God’s eternity — and how “eternity” is the complete possession of boundless perfection, all at once, without beginning, succession, or end — without “before” or “after” — a “changeless present.”
That sense of “eternity” is so inconceivable and so infinitely vast that our puny human minds simply cannot picture it, unless we make it really really really long.
But the basic is this: God isn’t concerned with “losing time” or “wasting it.” He’s not worried about being “late.” The Eternal God of the Universe is not locked in the events of the past, and He’s not daydreaming about all the future.
It’s all “here” to Him.
CS Lewis captures something of Divine eternity in his book, The Great Divorce, where a soul is offered a place in heaven, but asks for a few more days to decide whether or not he wants to stay.
The angel replies to him: “All days are present now. This moment contains all moments.”
It’s enough to make us dizzy, but for God, all time is summed up in a single, changeless “day” — a single moment — and from that perfectly Divine vantage point, He can say to us with all certainty:
“Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him!” “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.”
He can really speak through the prophet Ezekiel, saying: “O my people,” says the Lord, “I will open your graves, and have you rise from them! I will put my spirit in you that you may live — thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
“I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.”
God will do it. He will not delay! The Resurrection is on the way. It WILL happen.
Imagine that! All of our cemeteries and all of our mausoleums — now sad and silent — will one day be places of noise, and life, and victory!
It hasn’t happened yet from our perspective, but it’s a present reality to the Eternity of God.
So we can wait confidently.
And yet… that’s not the whole story either, is it? Being Christian isn’t just about waiting around, looking forward to some unseen eschatological future.
Because we know — that in Jesus Christ, we encounter a still deeper, even more mysterious truth, don’t we? In Him, we find the Already standing smack dab in the middle of the Not Yet.
Martha found this out first hand, when Jesus says:
“Your brother will rise.”
She responds in faith, looking ahead to that future — “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”
But not yet. Not now. Now, it’s too late, Lord…
Then Jesus responds to her with those truly shocking words: “I AM the resurrection and the life.”
He uses the present tense. Jesus is the Resurrection NOW. He is Life NOW. He IS the “Already,” walking among the “Not Yet” — God’s Eternity is somehow mysteriously HERE in Him.
“I will raise Lazarus, today. I will open his grave, sealed shut for four long days, and he WILL walk out alive. If only you’ll believe, Martha, you WILL see the glory of God!”
“Do you believe this?”
He asks us, as well: “Do you believe this?”
Do you believe that Jesus IS the Resurrection and the Life? That His timing is perfect? That He is never late, never early…
We are about to see Jesus arrive precisely when he means to, right here in this Church.
At the words “This is my Body… This is my Blood” — Jesus arrives.
The Most Holy Eucharist IS the Resurrection and the Life.
So with St. Martha, let us respond to Jesus’ question: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
I will wait, Lord, for your perfect timing. I believe.