Then Jesus beholding him, loved him, and said unto him, "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me." And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
No man with a good car needs to be justified!
Wise Blood, directed by John Huston
Is any man free from hypocrisy? Those of us speaking from within the Christian tradition, I suppose never are. We are all hypocrites. We forsake that which we claim to believe in daily with little ways of sin staining our clothes. Nevertheless, our mission is to call others to cleanliness via the same route we all have individually walked through. Hypocrisy is a disease that hasn’t quite been erased from among us. It is then with some measure of understanding that we can relate to Hazel Motes. He appears to be a man, in the words of Flannery O’Connor, “haunted by Christ” rather than led by him. Hazel sees the hypocrisy gushing out of a town that just isn’t nice to one another, yet claim eternal salvation for their own. Hazel alone stands redeemed in that dastardly town, for you see, he’s the only one not dirtied by hypocrisy. He needs no redemption.
Hazel Motes is a seeker. He seeks truth via his “Church of Christ without Christ” that he feels so darn compelled to launch. He longs to make disciples of the nation by way of righteous indignation. His tone is harsh, his car is busted, and he has no reason to be kind to the nomadic fools of the street. He worships the hallowed ground of sensible tell-it-like-it-is-ity.
These characteristics mix in such a bizarre way that we too, the viewers, are inclined to follow this man, this one, Mr. Hazel Motes. Perhaps we even desire to see him succeed. What would that look like anyway? If ever the Church Without Christ prospers, then perhaps we’d get to find out what a world without hypocrisy really looks like.
There is a deep innocence to Hazel’s demeanor. When confronted with a man who wishes to brand Hazel’s car-standing prophet image an avenue to quick cash, Hazel idealistically refuses such ventures, pouting that the truth is not worth a dollar – but that it must always remain free. His hopeless romance with the truth, however, is confronted every time he hops in his car, and demands that it work today by sheer will power. He refuses to accept the very basic truth that his car is a piece of crap.
Hazel’s apple box sermons always focus on hating Jesus. We ask ourselves, 'Hazel, man, where's the love?' Flashbacks of his youth show us the tent revivals that he had to endure while onstage listening to the hellish brimstone of his grandfather. In one scene, the small Hazel is seen frozen to his seat whilst listening to the hellfire of his grandfather, a stream of urine running down his pant leg. So then we can fathom two reasons for Hazel Motes’ faith in unbelief: the hypocrisy of those who believe, and the overcoming fear of such a place as hell, inspired by the end of days yelps from his living ancestor.
Because Hazel’s position is so ardently against Christ himself, because he moves into the same building as a blind preacher he met on the street, and because Hazel said he’s looking for a new Christ that doesn’t waste his blood – because of all these things, our tendency is to think that either Christ isn’t done with Hazel, or Hazel’s not yet done with Christ. He’s too obsessed with Jesus to suspect anything otherwise.
Through the course of a few short actions, Hazel’s reasons for his unbelief come tumbling down. Hypocrisy of the people is clearly denoted nothing more than a mere ad hominem attack on God. It doesn’t hold any water. Perhaps this is symbolically played out as Hazel’s car’s radiator itself cannot hold any water. It’s literally wholly.
The hard truth: all men sin. Eventually, Hazel Motes, the presumed son of innocence itself, the straight-and-narrow seeker of truth, is found to be a hypocrite himself. All men fail. All men are hypocrites. Hazel forsakes reason in order to maintain his conviction that he purchased a decent car.
Then Hazel does the really bad deed. He kills a man. This sin will find him out. His sin forces Hazel to acquire a taste for the truth of Hell. Hell’s reality stands as a witness to the blackness of every man’s soul. With this, Hazel becomes a prophet of desperate repentance.
Hazel finds for himself a grotesque redemption. In thinking of this, let us remember that Hazel Motes is no learned man. He is an innocent child, and acts accordingly. Like a newborn, he’s just encountered truth for the first time, and his response may not be completely mature. So although we may find his redemption as something uninspiring, what we may admire in Mr. Hazel Motes is that he never waivered in his desire to follow his beliefs whole-heartedly. Do you not think our Father doesn’t bestow grace on such men? Surely, surely...
Lord, lead us to action like the character Hazel Motes, that we would have a passion to seek out and eviscerate the hypocrisy in our lives.
Lord, you know all things, take away my hypocrisy. Cause me to follow you with all my passion, with all my wit, and with all my will.
"I'm gonna do some things that I ain't never done before."
Hazel Motes, Wise Blood