Unbinding the Wounded
Threefold Pattern of Christian Living
Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”—John 11:44
As we progress through Lent to an unusually late Easter, we hear the story of the raising of Lazarus. Once I was part of a little troupe that proclaimed this gospel at a prayer service. As we began, two actors wrapped strips of linen cloth around a seated third actor, thoroughly covering him. When we heard Jesus’ words, “Untie him and let him go,” the pianist began to play softly as the first two actors walked through the congregation, selecting members at random to come forward and remove one strip of cloth from the third.
The first person they selected was kind of shy, and I thought, uh-oh. But he came forward, dressed in his old work clothes and, with roughened hands, gently removed a strip of cloth that was binding “Lazarus.” Then he sort of bowed and walked quietly back to his seat. Others followed his lead, gently and respectfully removing each bit of binding cloth. It was just lovely, this enactment of the freeing of one who was bound.
Think about it. Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead. Surely he could zap off those binding cloths with a dramatic flick of his wrist. Instead, he calls on the community to do this work, thereby establishing a threefold pattern.
First, there’s grace. That’s Jesus calling us out of the darkness of our tombs—addiction, anxiety, doubt, grief, destructive habits.
Then there’s will. Even though we may be tempted to wallow in our tomb, we force ourselves to answer the call, to get up and limp into the light, weary and all tied up.
But we’re not finished. Jesus then empowers the community to participate in the work of untying us. Grace, will, and a community—these are the three essentials of the Christian life.
Sometimes the work of untying involves gentle and respectful correction, but that can be scary. Too often we ignore inappropriate behavior with the excuse, “It’s none of my business.” Or we womp up a bunch of outrage, sharing our perceptions of the other’s faults with anyone who will listen; only then, full of self-righteous indignation, do we stage a doomed confrontation.
Jesus understands our fear, yet he gives his disciples a clear set of directions for holy confrontation. (See Mt 18:15–17.) First, approach the offender alone and with love. If that doesn’t work, take along several friendly witnesses. If you’re still not successful, expose the wrongdoing to the whole community. Only if the offender still persists in the harmful behavior are we to distance ourselves.
Saint Paul addresses this issue in his letter to the Christian community in Galatia: Brothers, even if a person is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit (6:1). If our purpose is to “restore” the person to the community—not to prove we’re right or to humiliate—then we should approach the person “in a gentle spirit,” praying that we will find the right words.
We may have to distance ourselves from the offender, but only when all other steps have failed. We may weep, as Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, but even then we continue to pray, for no one’s story is ever finished.
Jesus entrusts us with this work of untying one another. He asks us to do this holy work gently and respectfully, full of faith, hope, and love—just as he would do.