Monday, March 10, 2008

THE PLEASURE OF DOING NOTHING USEFUL

John 11:1 A man named Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, became sick. Bethany was the town where Mary and her sister Martha lived.... The sisters sent Jesus a message: "Lord, your dear friend is sick."... Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus... Yet when he received the news that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days...Then he said to the disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."

This one of the passages traditionally read in the weeks leading up to Easter. Amongst the many, many ideas this story has generated is this one gem that struck me as I prepared for my sermon yesterday: we need to discover the pleasure of doing nothing useful.

Lazarus gets sick. We know nothing about his illness: but is obviously serious enough for his worried sisters to ask Jesus to come to their aid. But by the time Jesus arrives Lazarus has died. So far so good. The bit that intrigues me, however, is verse 6: which tells us that Jesus “stayed where he was for two more days”. I find this curious, because at first glance it seem like the callous disregard of a stranger to the family.... “I’ll come when I’m good and ready”. But this completely out of keeping with Jesus’ character, which is consistently one of compassion for those who struggle in life. And so my question was “Why did Jesus not rush over to comfort the family – and maybe perform a healing miracle?”

The answer is not in the text. So we must draw an inference from the context. John 10 tells us that Jesus escaped certain death twice in the days leading up to this “Lazarus incident.” I have the impression of an exhausted rabbi, who not only has taught extensively, but has faced life threatening opposition. And now he is hit with another crisis – the life threatening illness of his friend Lazarus. And Jesus does what he has done on other occasions such as this: he takes time out to recover. This is seen for example after feeding 5000 people Jesus goes off by himself to recover (John6:15); and after hearing the news of John the Baptist’s death Jesus chooses to escape the crowds to be alone (Mark 6:31). So John tells us the Jesus takes two days off before going to Mary and Martha.

And here is the wisdom that struck me: we all need times of quietness in order to help us life effectively. It is a fool that thinks she is so indispensable that she cannot take a rest. If Jesus needed a two day break, then how much more do we not need to take time off from our busy-ness. The problem of course is our culture that persuades us that doing nothing is sinful: we are taught that sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, and “the devil finds work for idle hands”. So we keep busy, often to the detriment of being effective.

So my invitation to us – for the sake of our souls – is to discover the pleasure of doing nothing useful.

4 comments:

becky said...

this is a hard concept for many Christians and for those in ministry; we always feel like we have to be "doing" something. I tend to be more like Mary rather than Martha. I find that the Holy Spirit is much more effective than I am.

PS that stop sign got me laughing. My brother use to have a saying very similar to that when we would run triathlons--he's say "Becky, the bike ride is going to kill you so go like hell on the run."

blessings,

becky

Deacon Sue said...

I know a lot of men who fully understand the concept of doing nothing useful! However, I do take your point.

Scout with the Cross said...

You are so right, we do need to take time out and be quiet. But its nice to get back into the swing of things.

bugs said...

Dion once said in a sermon :"Don't just do something, stand there"