Given all of the canceled activities this week, I found myself perusing social media more frequently. FaceBook and Tik-Tok were both full of videos and memes about the unexpected weather. It’s funny, because growing up in Oklahoma I was practically taught to expect the opposite of whatever the weather reporter said. If you were expecting to have a nice and calm outing at the park, chances are a tornado was going to appear at any moment to ruin the festivities. Of course, I am being a little dramatic, but you get the point…and, as fellow Oklahomans, maybe you don’t entirely disagree!
Life is a compilation of the unexpected. No matter how hard we try to plan out our lives, there is so much that is out of our control. So as I was contemplating our reaction to the unexpected, I found myself wondering why, if this is our reality, do we not “expect” the unexpected? The Gospels alone are full of unexpected moments. The disciples didn’t expect that Jesus would be able heal the sick or help the blind to see. They didn’t anticipate that five barley loaves and two fish would be able to feed five-thousand people. If you and I went to the beach and saw someone walking on the water, we would probably run away in fear. And why? Because whether we do it intentionally or not, we have come to limit our expectations to our own understanding of what can be expected. The account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11:17-27, 38-44 is a great example of this:
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles[a] off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[b] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” John 11:17-27
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:38-44
I don’t know about you, but I related to Martha a lot in this story. It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but I have unintentionally limited my expectation of the power of God simply because I am unable to fully grasp the understanding of the full extent of God’s power in my life. Martha believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but Lazarus had been dead four days. She believed that Lazarus would rise again, but not until the resurrection on the last day. What she did not expect was to be standing in the presence of her resurrected brother as a result of Jesus’s three words, Lazarus, come out. I love the question that Jesus asks Martha when she voices her concern for the smell: Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God? None of us will ever fully grasp the weight of God’s glory, and believing that we can is a fool’s errand. I mean think of the countless theologians have dedicated their time and energy to comprehending even the smallest part of God’s divinity?
It is not our ability or inability to understand the weight of God’s glory that truly matters anyway. Our expectations of God shouldn’t even be rooted in our own understanding– they should be rooted in the strength of our faith. We hear this scripture so often that we may not even give it a second glance, but Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that we walk by faith not by sight. This is the verse that comes to mind when I picture Lazarus emerging from the tomb–hands and feet bound with linen strips and his face wrapped with a cloth. Completely bound and unable to see, Lazarus emerges from the tomb at the sound of Jesus’s voice. In our own circumstances, we go through seasons that feel as if we are completely bound. And in these circumstances, the extent of our faith is usually a reflection of how much we actually see God moving in those circumstances. When things go wrong, we are quick to assume that God has forsaken us. But what if, like Lazarus, we stepped out in faith even if we were unable to see? Would if instead of confining our expectations of God to our own understanding, we asked the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts to a journey that is unhindered by doubt?
Would if we dared to expect the unexpected?