The Bystanders

Leslye Colvin

Today’s post is from guest contributor Leslye Colvin. Leslye is a writer, spiritual companion, and contemplative activist who lives in Maryland, the land of the Piscataway. Her blog, Leslye’s Labyrinth, features writings from her African-American Catholic heart.

Today’s liturgical readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent can be found here.

We live in a society that was built upon denying the dignity of many persons, including those who are LGBTQIA+. For too many, even our parishes have not been places of refuge and belonging for members of the Body of Christ. How do those of us who consider ourselves to be bystanders respond to these and other unjust actions?

Several years ago, I began to contemplate the words from the Gospel of John in today’s liturgy. Few would argue that most of the attention is given to Jesus’ dramatic and unexpected call for his beloved and dead friend Lazarus to “come out.” Pondering the words, seemingly in an instant, I recognized what was hidden in plain sight.

I was stunned. The story did not end with Jesus’ summons to his dead friend, nor did it end with Lazarus walking out of the burial tomb. How had I missed this? Having never heard a homily on the words, I am certain I am not the only one.

Jesus’ final words in this story two thousand years ago were to the bystanders. He spoke an enduring invitation that continues speaking to us today. It is clear and concise, simple and direct.

[Jesus] cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Unbind him and let him go.”

“Unbind him and let him go.”

The words are alarming in their explicitness. They are a call for us, bystanders, to participate in the liberation of our siblings as well as ourselves. “Unbind him and let him go.”

Is this not the message Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue with the words of Isaiah?

[Jesus] unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”

This unbinding is the way of Christ. But we must ask ourselves, is it our way?

Are we compelled to react to the command to unbind him and let him go? This question is systemic. Do we question normative practices? Do we examine practices and ways of being that privilege some at the expense of the dignity of others—heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny? Do we resist these systems of death in which live?

The question of unbinding is also personal. Do we recognize what binds us from affirming the Imago Dei (Image of God) in others? Do we restore this man—and those on the margins in our midst—to a rightful place in our family and community? Do we dare risk breaking tradition by touching the burial bands of exclusion and rejection? We espouse the words “freedom” and “liberation,” but do we really want the ideals to extend beyond ourselves?

In truth, we are all bound – even bystanders. The ultimate question is how do we unbind each other. We must lean into the discomfort arising from the questioning of the flawed yet normative ideologies that exist in our nation and in our beloved Catholic Church. We must lean into the discomfort as a pregnant person leans into labor pains. Do not ignore this opportunity of grace. As we lean forward, we invite God to do God’s work within us, through us, beyond us. As we experience our own unbinding, we are compelled to unbind others – for to unbind is the way of Christ Jesus. And when we follow this way, we can see what grace is birthed!

Leslye Colvin, March 26, 2023

3 replies
  1. Fr. Paul Morrissey, OSA
    Fr. Paul Morrissey, OSA says:

    What a fantastic homily!
    Thank you, Leslie.
    That is easy to miss, and I have missed this often.
    “Come out!”–yes. But “unbind him!”–oh yes!
    Unbind the marginalized, the political processes, the Church itself!
    Most of all, Lord Jesus, unbind me.Give Spirit to my dead bones.
    You have promised, so I believe you will do it, as you say.
    Happy Easter, all!


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