Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus came out of the tomb, still bound hand and foot with linen strips, his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus told the crowd, “Untie him and let him go free.” ~ John 11: 43-44
We learned the hard way that buying a car in its first year of production effectively makes you a beta tester. For us, it was the Ford Escort. Apparently, Ford learned from the first year and went on to make the car a success. Recalls work to fix small problems that can be tweaked, but sometimes the problems are too great and you have to question the choice to produce the product in the first place. It might be suggested that Cormorants fall into this Edsel-level category. Who designs a bird that spends most of its time submerged in water with feathers that aren’t waterproof? If that doesn’t sound like a problem, consider the fact that one of the most common positions you will see a Cormorant in is holding its wings out waiting for them to dry so that it is able to fly. Like the flightless Dodo, these birds can be quite easy to catch. Fortunately for Cormorants, they must not taste very good, but they do make for very effective forced labor. In some parts of the world, particularly in China and Japan, Cormorants have been used for fishing. By placing a snare around the base of their neck, humans can both control where the bird goes and prevent it from swallowing any large fish they catch. Once a bird has a fish in their gullet, they can be force to regurgitate it by the human fisher and sent back for more. Ironically, the bird’s great skill is what keeps it captive in the relationship, the harder it works, the more likely it will remain captive.
I wonder if in the story of the raising of Lazarus, Jesus didn’t feel a bit of the sense of being a captive of his own success. His heart breaks for his friend and his family, so he brings him back to life. But what about the rest of his life? At some point, Lazarus would die again, the pain of loss would return, and surely there would be some suffering in between. Part of Jesus must have wanted to simply allow Lazarus to rest in peace. Instead, Jesus meets him halfway and includes the community. He doesn’t bring Lazarus out of the tomb, he calls for him to choose to come out. Then he tells those gathered to do the unbinding.
Perhaps an easily overlooked lesson in this story is that irony that our desire to be unbound from death is a choice to bound to life, even if it is only for a time. Like the Cormorant whose skill assures that it will be bound, our love of life comes with a cost. If we only focus on the fleeting nature of life, we might miss out on living. But we might also learn from the Cormorants that we were made for this. You see, the fact that their feathers soak up water means that they weigh more and thus are better able to “fly” underwater to do the thing they are made to do, catch fish. When we discover what particular gifts are ours, then, we too can realize that what we thought was a fault worthy of a recall might instead be a brilliant design so that we might be fully alive in each moment that we are given.
Prayer: Great Maker, keep us bound to those things that make us who we are, even when we question your design. Amen.