"Lent 05: Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead" - Tim Suttle

"Lent 05: Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead" 

by Tim Suttle


2017.04.02 – Lent 05
John 11:1-45 – Jesus Raises Lazarus from the dead

Anybody seen the movie Arrival, w/Amy Adams & Hawkeye from Avengers?
It’s a great film in its own right, but it’s a fascinating discussion of language.

Clip: kangaroo
It’s not true, but it proves my point.
Her point is: language is not easy.
And if you want to understand the meaning of a specific word you have a common point of view, a shared context.
When you don’t, you WILL misinterpret things.

I want you to read a word aloud for me. What does this say: sign
Now how many of you would say you know what this word means?
So, I spent some time contemplating this word ‘sign’ this week.
Because our story for today is called a sign by the writer of John.

On dictionary.com there are 30 different definitions for the word sign:
A token; An object that coveys meaning.
A symbol that represents a word.
A means of traffic control is a sign.
A motion or gesture … like the signs in baseball.
A notice put on display.
A trace or vestige … (as in: there was no sign of them).
Sign is a musical notation.
It can mean to affix your signature… sign something.
It can mean to engage a player … as in, to sign a new catcher.
It’s an entire language for the hearing impaired (sign language).
A random event that takes on meaning beyond itself.
It has all these verb meanings.
To sign away your fortune.
To sign off from your radio show.
To sign on, or take responsibility.
To sign up, to bring a snack.
To sign out, from the hospital.

So, how do you tell which definition you should use? Context. 
You look at what else is going on in the sentence or paragraph. 
If you want to know what ‘sign’ means, you look at how it’s imbedded in a larger story & then you can pick one of the 30 options.
But if it’s not imbedded in a story… if there’s no context…
Then it’s really hard to know what the word ‘sign’ actually means.
And you could easily assign the wrong meaning to what seems like a very simple word.

PT: So, for us today, the question is: what does it mean for us to say the raising of Lazarus from the dead by Jesus is a sign? We have to remember that this sign is imbedded in a story. There’s a context that can really help us out.

In John 2 there’s the story of Jesus turning water into wine, and then it says, “This was his first sign.”
John 4, JS heals the official’s son & it says, “This was his 2nd sign.”
Then John keeps using the word “sign” but he stops numbering them. 
But if you actually count you end up with 7 signs: 
turning water into wine ONE / Jn 02:
healing the official’s son TWO / Jn 04:
heals lame man at the pool THREE / Jn 05:
Jesus feeds the 5,000 FOUR / Jn 06:
Jesus walks on water & calms the storm FIVE / Jn 06:
He heals the man born blind (last week’s story) SIX / Jn 09:
Jn 11, he raises Lazarus from the dead, which is the 7th sign.

So in the scriptures a seven is never just a seven.
It has another meaning as well.
And the # 7 is most closely associated w/creation (7 days).
And what are the very 1st words in John’s gospel? In the beginning…
How does the book of Genesis start? In the beginning…
So these 7 signs are connected to Genesis & the 7 days of creation.

PT: So when JS shows up in the gospel of John, performing 7 signs, it’s not a magic show meant to make him famous. His actions are symbolically connected to the creation story. God is on the move again, like God was at creation.

If you notice the signs build. The first sign – water into wine – he’s just keeping everybody’s drink full… but pretty soon: 
He’s healing people, feeding people, commanding nature…
By the 7th sign he’s raising people from the dead.
So, if they build throughout the 7, then understanding this 7th one is probably the key to understanding all of the signs (& the gospel itself).

When I was growing up & was taught the simplest interpretation of the signs.
They were simply proof that Jesus was God.
Anybody grow up hearing signs/miracles taught that way?

Problem is: JS often denied that interpretation of what he’s doing.
Mt. 24:24, “false Messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs & omens, to lead astray.”
In his temptation in the wilderness he refused to perform a sign.
JS often performed miracles, but he refused to do so as validation or proof of his divine authority. 
Mt. 12:39 “An evil & adulterous generation asks for a sign.”

PT: JS consistently taught: don’t be impressed by signs; don’t go looking for them, don’t demand them of your leaders. The miraculous is not proof that JS is God. They are actually way more important than that. 

Now, it’s not that JS didn’t appreciate the miraculous. In fact you get the feeling JS thought it was odd NOT to believe in miracles.
It’s like JS thought God was so supernaturally active in the world… it’d be odd NOT to catch a miracle every now & then.
But not as advertisements or entertainment or validation…

JS’s miracles & signs are meant to give us a glimpse into the world that God has always imagined for us.
… a glimpse of who God is & of who we can be...
… a glimpse of the world as it should be, not as it is.

PT: The signs are shedding light upon a bigger story. And because there are 7 signs & John starts his gospel ”In the beginning” we know this is THE big story being retold; the story of: creation, fall, redemption, consummation. 

The key to interpreting the signs in the Gospel of John is to view them as a part of a larger story - & not just any story, but the story of God that starts “in the beginning,” … the story of:
Abraham / Isaac / Jacob – Israel
Joseph / Exodus / Wilderness / Conquest / Exile
Now this is a totally New chapter in that old story… the problem is:

PT: The Pharisees can’t interpret the signs correctly. The signs point to a whole new chapter in God’s story & they simply can’t accept that. They cannot accept the notion that God is doing something new. It’s a thought they cannot think. 
You know what I mean by that, right?
EX: Like a parent whose kids are never the problem. 
It’s always someone else’s kid’s who are the problem.
My child did something wrong?
That’s a thought they cannot think. 
And anytime there’s a thought we cannot think, then this tends to make us blind to certain possibilities.
…the possibility that it might be our kid who’s acting up.
…the possibility that God is doing something new that is on par with what God did clear back in the very beginning.

JESUS SEEMS TO KNOW: You can’t take these new signs & fit them into the old narratives… & the Jewish people are kind of trapped in an old narrative. 

It’s like the way they used to constrain elephants. 
When the elephants were young, they tie them up w/a rope.
The baby elephant will struggle for hours, & rub sores on its leg.
Until it figures out the rope is too strong & it can’t get away.
Once the elephant learns that lesson, it will never challenge it again. 
It suffers from a kind of learned helplessness. 
You & I would look at the rope & think, that can’t hold an elephant!
The elephant looks at the rope & thinks, that thing always holds me.
The only one in the circus who doesn’t know the elephant can break free is the elephant … that’s learned helplessness

PT: BTW, that’s the reason JS is gets so angry w/the Pharisees. They’re the rope tethering people to a learned helplessness. He wants to give a new imagination.

So, if you’re holding to an old story & you see JS’s sign, you’ll probably come up w/the same old interpretation … so for example:
Think about last week: Jesus heals a man born blind – nobody had ever done that... how do “The Jews” interpret that sign?
They say he’s in league w/the devil…
They kick the man out of the synagogue, & run Jesus off!
When they view JS’s signs they see him as a threat to be elimin.
Now remember: the key to interpreting the signs is to view them as a part of a larger story… but it has to be the right story.
JS is telling a new story; Pharisees, they are part of that old story.

PT: These signs are imbedded in a NEW story, God is doing a NEW THING, and so how you interpret the SIGNS Jesus performs, depends upon what story you think you are living in…

Eugene Peterson says, “Signs and wonders, miracles and mighty works are certainly part of the story, yes, an essential part of the biblical story and its continuation and outworking in the Christian life; but out of context, apart from God’s revelation of himself in Jesus, severed and then removed from their organic positionings in the intricate and detailed formation of God’s people, they are simply things, miracle-commodities that are bought and sold on the religious stock exchange.” P93

You have to keep the signs in their organic positionings. John situates each of the signs in the midst of a narrative that helps interpret them.
That way we can’t make JS do what we think he should do (or be).
Because there’s this story & it’s a particular story…
Getting the right story told is the key to understanding the sign.
This is JS’s big struggle w/Jewish leaders (why such frust/con)
You have to be immersed in the gospel story to really get the sign.
& if you’re in the wrong story, you’ll interpret the signs wrongly

EX: prosperity gospel – God wants everyone to be healthy & rich; way to become healthy/rich is to believe it enough to give your church $$. If you’re NOT healthy/wealthy… you ≠believe; God doesn’t love you; un-confessed sin;
They interpret JS’s signs = God wants you to be rich/healthy.
The reason they do this is because the overarching story they’re a part of isn’t really the xian story = story of American affluence & prosperity.
Imagine what happens when you take the prosperity gospel to Africa in the middle of an AIDS epidemic & say disease means don’t believe enough, god doesn’t love you, unconfessed sin…
All of the sudden the good news isn’t good news…
How you interpret the signs Jesus performs, depends upon what story you think you are living in… (& JS is telling new story)

Let’s catch the story leading up to the 7th sign. After Jesus healed the blind man, he went to JER for the festival of dedication (Hanukah).
He was teaching in the temple & caused huge scene
The Jews say: “tell us plainly, are you the Messiah?”
Jesus basically says, “I’ve been doing all these signs; you only see what you want to see & you can’t see I and the father are one”

PT: They try to kill him, JS escapes across the Jordan, to the place where JTB was baptizing & JS was tempted (=why it’s a lent story; wilderness: about disorientation that leads to new orientation). When we pick up the story, JS’s just learned that his friend Lazarus is very sick.

John 11 4When Jesus got the message, he said, "This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God's glory by glorifying God's Son."
 5-7Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, but oddly, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed on where he was for two more days. After the two days, he said to his disciples, "Let's go back to Judea." 8They said, "Rabbi, you can't do that. The Jews are out to kill you, and you're going back?"

9-10Jesus replied, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in daylight doesn't stumble because there's plenty of light from the sun. Walking at night, he might very well stumble because he can't see where he's going." [disc: why can’t you give us a straight answer?] 11He said these things, and then announced, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I'm going to wake him up."

 12-13The disciples said, "Master, if he's gone to sleep, he'll get a good rest and wake up feeling fine." Jesus was talking about death, while his disciples thought he was talking about taking a nap. [it’s the scene from Sandlot, “you want a s’more? / s’more what? / you want a s’more / how can I have s’more when I haven’t had anything yet… you’re killing me smalls!”] 14-15Then Jesus became explicit: [thank you Jesus… literally] "Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn't there. You're about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let's go to him." [immediately this makes sense to them… they’re in hiding. He goes back to Bethany?? They’re gonna arrest Jesus & probably kill him. The disciples get it now] 16That's when Thomas, the one called the Twin, said to his companions, "Come along. We might as well die with him."

Let’s pause for just a moment. The way John tells the story, he’s making it obvious that it was weird that Jesus didn’t go right away.
He doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t prepare to leave.
He didn’t send a message saying, “be there soon.”
He just stayed in the wilderness while Lazarus died.

Why the 2 extra days? Well, the geography tells the story. Where is he? He’s in the wilderness. What is he always doing in the wilderness?
Praying & wrestling w/the father’s will.
I mean, the conflict between JS & “the Jews” was heated.
The disciples were right; if The Jews got a hold of JS - trouble.
And Bethany / Lazarus’s home / is right there...

I had a professor in seminary who when (talking about controversial issues), he’d say, “You can only go to Jerusalem once.”

You better make dang sure this is what God wants.
If Jesus goes to Jerusalem he’s going to set events in motion that will end in his death… there’s no way around that.
So it’s likely he takes a couple of days to pray for direction (NT Wright)
While he’s praying God reveals to him Lazarus is dead.
At some point, Jesus feels that God is leading him to JER
He tells his disciples “we’re going,” & Thomas says what they are all thinking: "Come along. We might as well die with him."
(if we’re gonna die, we might as well die together).

PT: Now, some people think he stayed around so Lazarus would have time to die so he could raise him, which is actually kind of cruel. It seems more likely that Jesus was spending a couple days in prayer, trying to discern if it was time to go to Jerusalem or not. When he hears from God that Lazarus is dead & he should go, he takes off w/disciples. I can’t imagine how much courage that took.

Let’s read on v. 17 17-20When Jesus finally got there, he found Lazarus already four days dead. Bethany was near Jerusalem, only a couple of miles away, and many of the Jews were visiting Martha and Mary, sympathizing with them over their brother. Martha heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet him. Mary remained in the house.

It’s an important detail that he was 4 days dead.
It was a common Jewish belief that the soul of a dead person would hang around for 3 days, hoping to reenter the body.
So 4 days told the reader, “this guy was really dead.”

Remember last week we talked about the Jewish concept of Shalom – shalom means peace but not just inner peace / world peace.
Shalom: everything living in proper relationship to everything else; all the world existing in harmony – that’s shalom.
When JS faces a disruption in SHALOM, he moves against it. 
Here he’s faced with death - the ultimate disruption of Shalom. 

So the Q is, how ‘s he going to move against death & will anything change? 

Martha comes to meet him first saying (v22), "Master, if only you'd been here, my brother wouldn't have died. Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you."  23Jesus said, "Your brother will be raised up."  24Martha replied, "I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time."

She’s talking about the Jewish belief in the general resurrection of the dead – which is a Christian belief as well.
That God will raise all who have died to new life:
God will create a world like ours only with its beauty & power enhanced & its violence & death abolished.
Martha believes this is going to happen way in the FUTURE, but it’s no consolation right now.

Then Jesus does something incredible:
He asks Martha to imagine that FUTURE is suddenly and dramatically brought backwards into the present.
The future of God is breaking into the present in Jesus Christ.
The new creation, and with it the resurrection, has broken in to the middle of the old story, transforming it into a whole new story.
And God is moving against death in & through Jesus.
Remember, this is the 7th sign, it’s the pinnacle.
What God is doing in JS is moving against any disruption of shalom including the ultimate disruption: which is death.

So JS says in V.25 25-26"You don't have to wait for the End. I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?"  27"Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world."

Then comes Mary saying the exact same thing: "Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33-34When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, "Where did you put him?" 34-35"Master, come and see," they said. Now Jesus wept. 36The Jews said, "Look how deeply he loved him." 37Others among them said, "Well, if he loved him so much, why didn't he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man."

Notice Jesus’ reaction this time – 1st he gets ticked off.
I used the Message version here because most versions say “Greatly disturbed” or “deeply moved,” or “troubled”
These verbs in the Greek are much more harsh – He’s ticked.
It says a “deep anger welled up”
And then it says Jesus wept, he cried.

In the West we have a tendency to sentimentalize the scene. JS is crying because he’s sad is friend died – I think that misses it for two reasons:
1) We’re told that he’s angry. 
2) That it’s a sentimental thing is what “the Jews” guess.
How many times have “The Jews” interpreted JS signs rightly?
Never – they always give the wrong answer.
But notice what he cries in response to: the offer to see the tomb

I think that’s key… So, whatever else he’s feeling at the time, surely:
He was feeling grief for his own death – he knew it was coming
… I mean they had just asked him to go to a tomb
And you know his own death is already on his mind
Ever since those 2 days praying in the wilderness
JS knew that death was the enemy
…& it has gotten a hold of his friend Lazarus.
Wonder if he was thinking – yep that’ll be me in a few days.
It’s like the intensity of the situation overwhelmed Jesus & he wept… 
It’s a very human moment…
But shalom had been destroyed & JS had to move against it.
The question was: HOW is he going to do it? 

The answer the story gives is this: Jesus decides that he’s effectively trading his life for Lazarus’s life.
This is the meaning of the 7th sign: Jesus will die so Lazarus can live.

You have to remember: as long as Jesus stayed on the other side of the Jordan, he was relatively safe; it was easy to maneuver; he knew the place.
But the moment he goes over to Bethany, it’s done.
But, God is moving against death – the ultimate enemy of shalom.
And HOW he goes about this, is that Jesus (who John has just said in Ch. 10 that Jesus is one with God)… 
Jesus is going to trade his life for Lazarus’s life.
…and so he begins the exchange that will culminate in his trading his life for ours as well.

It seems like an odd thing… Why? Why move against death this way?
N.T. Wright offers this, both the question & an explanation: 
“Couldn’t the man who did so many signs have brought it about that he himself didn’t have to die? Couldn’t the one who saved so many have in the end saved himself? John is telling us the answer by a thousand hints and images throughout his book. It is only through his death, it is only through his own sharing of the common fate of humanity, that the world can be saved. There is a line straight on from Jesus’ tears in verse 35 to the death in which Jesus will share, not only the grief, but also the doom of the world.” 
PT: So, Jesus wept … There was a direct line between the death he was about to overcome w/Lazarus & the death he would die a few days later, that would overcome the death of the entire world once & for all.

JS had come to believe he was bridging God’s future into the present; & he had to trust that when the future of God comes in contact: 
with the blind, the sick & even the dead…
God’s life will overcome death;
But if he does this, he’s essentially trading his life for his friend.
The last time he was in JER they tried to kill him… he had to flee!
It’s 6 days before the Passover
Somewhere around a ½ million Jews are flooding into the city
He’s sitting on the high priest’s doorstep – 2mi away in Bethany
If he raises Lazarus from the dead, all of Jerusalem will know.
But there’s this incredible shift … I mean:
In the span of just a few days he goes from all of the Jews wanting to kill him, to them welcoming into JER like a king, (Palm Sunday).

First they try to kill him & run him off. Then they greet him as the King.
You know what happens in between those 2 things? The 7th sign… 
This miracle is going to sway the crowds.
They are going to start to believe he’s the Messiah.
And only Jesus – knew he was trading his life for ours.
And when he was standing in front of his friend’s tomb
I’m sure he was thinking, “I’ll be in one of these in a week.”
And JS wept at the pain of it all, anger/sorrow all mixed together.

And yet, this is the great hope of the gospel: Through the faithfulness of Jesus, God is going to tell a new story (gospel). God has resolved that anything disrupting shalom in this world… its days are numbered. 

Not just that God’ll fix it in the end; God is on the move right now.
Disruption of shalom is killing things that are meant to live.
So God moves against it.

So the Q: for all of us is not “if you die tonight where you going to spend eternity.” God’s already taken care of that.
The question here is what’s killing you right now?
What is bringing death into the middle of your life?
How long are you going to keep drinking & letting it kill you?
How long are you going to keep the addiction under wraps?
How long are you going to hold on to your:
Fear        Anger        Pain        Worry
Shame    Unforgiveness    Past        Anxiety
How long until you let God raise you up to new life?


PT: What’s killing you? Let me just tell you the good news: The Spirit of God is alive in this world, the Spirit of Christ is living within you & it’s ready to move against everything that’s disrupting shalom on your life, against everything that’s killing you…

God is telling a whole new story… and it's a story of healing, and redemption, and restoration & the defeat of death & all its friends & we just have to have a tiny bit of courage & faith… just enough to open up to God, enough to welcome the friend who has come to trade his life for ours. Will you let the spirit of God begin to work in your life, to set you free?

You have a God today, who sees you, and he sees the shape you’re in. 

And he knows what’s killing you. 

And he has made you a promise, that for those who trust in him, he will bring them life, and not just life, but life lived abundantly… and not just later on, but right now.

And he does not look upon you with contempt but with love. 
And he wants you to be a part of His Story of redemption.
He loves you enough to trade his life for yours…
So you could know life in the midst of life… instead of death.
Everything that’s killing you, he’s moving against it.

“But Lord, he stinketh” in KJV… just funny, loads up for later… we’re all Lazarus, we stinketh.

Elephant Story: adult elephant rope won’t keep it in place. It starts at birth but a big ole chain and cuff around the leg of this baby elephant. It will struggle & struggle for hours, rub sores on its ankle, but when it’s young this little chain is too strong. When it is young it is in bondage & it just gets used to it. This young elephant grows up to be the largest land animal on the planet, could break free at anytime but it doesn’t. The reason is that along the way that elephant got used to its own bondage. The elephant stopped believing that it could break free. And so it stopped trying. The only one in the circus who doesn’t know the elephant can break free is the elephant.

The question for us is really the question we started Lent with way back in the first Sunday of Lent.
We talked about getting lost – old maps “terra incognita”
The unknown land.
During lent we do these small fasts that disorient us a bit.
They are meant to be a time in the wilderness when we start to learn more about ourselves.

Go back to the getting lost sermon & end by asking. What is God trying to move against in your life? What’s the enemy that’s killing you? What is God calling out

What happened between those two things? He raises Lazarus.

38-39Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, "Remove the stone." The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, "Master, by this time there's a stench. He's been dead four days!"
 40Jesus looked her in the eye. "Didn't I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41-42Then, to the others, "Go ahead, take away the stone." They removed the stone. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, "Father, I'm grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I've spoken so that they might believe that you sent me." 43-44Then he shouted, "Lazarus, come out!" And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face. Jesus told them, "Unwrap him and let him loose."
 45-48That was a turnaround for many of the Jews who were with Mary. They saw what Jesus did, and believed in him. But some went back to the Pharisees and told on Jesus. The high priests and Pharisees called a meeting of the Jewish ruling body. "What do we do now?" they asked. "This man keeps on doing things, creating God-signs. If we let him go on, pretty soon everyone will be believing in him and the Romans will come and remove what little power and privilege we still have."
 49-52Then one of them—it was Caiaphas, the High Priest that year—spoke up, "Don't you know anything? Can't you see that it's to our advantage that one man dies for the people rather than the whole nation be destroyed?" He didn't say this of his own accord, but as Chief Priest that year he unwittingly prophesied that Jesus was about to die sacrificially for the nation, and not only for the nation but so that all God's exile-scattered children might be gathered together into one people. 53-54From that day on, they plotted to kill him. 

Before He calls out to Lazarus, there is this interesting detail.
Mary says that there’s going to be a stench.
Jesus tells them to roll away the stone & they do
But there’s no stench
And then Jesus says, “Father, I'm grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I've spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.”
Jesus thanks the father that he has heard his prayer.
What prayer?

N.T. Wright again, he says this. “I think he’s referring to the prayers he prayed during those two strange, silent days in the wilderness across the Jordan. He was praying for Lazarus, but he was also praying for wisdom and guidance as to his own plans and movements. Somehow the two were bound up together.”

Jesus stands at the tomb, they roll the stone away, but there’s no stench. And you can almost see Jesus relax… His prayers have been answered, Lazarus’s body has not been decomposing. All that is left is a word of command… he says a quick thank you to god & calls “Lazarus”
& Lazarus comes out, looking like a corpse, shuffling, sightless
But he’s alive, released into light and life.
And the Father has confirmed Jesus’s obedience – 
he’s on the right track & now he knows it.

What’s he going to do? End of story rushing into middle.
When Martha says, “Where were you.”
Jesus says, “He’ll be raised. 

Use the long butcher paper idea for a timeline.
History – from one end of the paper to the other.
Do the Jewish thing first… day of the Lord.
Pg. 6 of that talk – Jesus saying “I’m trying to get us there.” In stead of future coming rushing back & resurrection stuff… not yet; do the JS saw himself as bringing about that new day.
Show the problems in our day, way back?

Jesus traded his life for Lazarus’s life. As long as he stayed on the other side of the Jordan he was pretty safe from the Chief priests and the Roman authorities. (BBT – Angels). Use Chilton’s Rabbi Jesus, to learn the history.

Involved other people in removing the stone. Jesus was always inviting us into a shared mission.

Saying that death is tragic. Death is the enemy. Death is not your friend. Unless there is a resurrection, death is the end of you. You are not an immortal. If our lives go on after we die, it is because God wills it to be so.

After his first sign (water into wine), JS goes to the temple & turns over the money changers tables, remember that story?
The temple rulers corner him & say, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jn 2:18.
Jesus gives this cryptic answer… if they destroy the temple, but he’ll build it up again 3 days.
He refuses to give them a sign, because he knows: 
They’ll just interpret it to say what they want it to mean…

In the film Amy Adams is originally rejected as the lead translator, & before the colonel in charge leaves to go see the other possible translator Adams says:
Ask the other translator the Sanskrit word for war, & its translation.
The colonel leaves goes & sees the other guy who blows it somehow.
He comes back & says, “Gavishti … he says it means an argument .. what do you say it means?”
She says, “A desire for more cows.”
He says, “Pack your bags, you’re coming w/me.”
The story behind this is kind of interesting.

The word gavishti is Sanskrit word for battle, but literally it indicates a desire for more cows. (gau = cow; ishti = desire)
The other translator has a trite & simplistic understanding of the word.
Amy Adams’ character knows cows are sacred in India.
They were held as social, economic, & religious currency.
The word is more complicated than just “an argument.”
It can mean war … but it doesn’t have to.

It’s like in The Godfather: going to the mattresses… 
When a family wanted to go to war w/their rivals, they’d send somebody to buy a bunch of mattresses & deliver them to a hideout.
All these men would sleep on these mattresses for days in their hideout while they were waiting for orders.
Going to the mattresses meant a gangster war.