What the hell kind of a preacher are you not to see
if you can save my soul?
*This post best read while indulging in Sufjan Steven's I Want to Be Well. here.
Hazel strikes a match to reveal the truth. He must know for sure.
A pair of eyes stare back in surprise.
And so the blind preacher has been proven a fraud.
Hazel's anger need not rage against the hypocrite any longer.
Hazel turns away.
He must fight Jesus on some other ground.
Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood (adapted onto film by the famously atheistic John Huston) follows the story of Hazel Motes, the man who Jesus gets in the end. And boy does he ever get him.
Hazel runs about the town preaching the gospel of the Church of Christ without Christ, Where the blind can't see, the lame don't walk, and the dead stay that way.
Jesus didn't die for our sins, because there is no such thing, so says Hazel. This severe thought of Hazel's continues to unravel through the course of his church's uprising because Hazel does believe in sin. Above all else, Hazel hates hypocrisy. Day after day, the world and all its inhabitants spoon feed hypocrite after hypocrite to Mr. Motes, expecting him to eat it all up and ask for dessert.
Mark 10:17-31 tells the story of a rich man who seeks salvation from Jesus. The man asks plainly, Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? verse 17 Good question young jedi apprentice! Jesus tells him to keep the commandments passed down from Moses. The kid eagerly responds, Teacher, I have kep all these things from my youth up. verse 20 Can you imagine his excitement? He thinks he's passing the test. He's going to win entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. He's made the cut! Hallelujah!
Mark then writes, Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." verse 21
Explain to me how that works.
Only the poor enter into Heaven? So, do I need to go become a communist to gain access into life ever after? Does my television stamp me void? Do my clothes banish me from the pearly gates?
Hazel Motes is not well.
Verse 22: But at these words [the rich man] was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.
Does Paul not teach us that it is grace alone that grants us access into the Kingdom of Heaven, that it is not a work of ourselves, but a gift of God? Absolutely.
So how does that fact of grace correspond to Jesus' demands of the rich? Do they not contradict themselves? Why must Hazel torture himself to become "clean"?
I confess that the question, "Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ?" is jarring to me.
I have yet to hear the Holy Ghost tangibly speak to me. He doesn't respond to my prayers the way a friend would respond to a conversation I start.
Nevertheless, I do have a relationship with God. It's a mystery to me, but it is real.
Critics of scripture have pointed to the letter of James as evidence of a direct contradiction in the Bible. James, never one to pull punches, states plainly, But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 2:20
...you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?
James continues a couple sentences later, You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 2:25
Everyone of God's children is distinct. No one is like me. No one is like you. God knows this. God loves this. He must us this way.
While grace is free, our response to it may look a million different ways. Sometimes, I reckon, it will look down right bizarre (Abraham and Isaac!). Sometimes, though the gift is free, our response is costly.
Seeing Hazel torture himself may sound perverse (and I am not willing to state that he did this BY God's leading -- only that in his eyes, from his experience of the world, this was the appropriate way to show his appreciation and commitment), but let us hold back judgment on this account. I am, as of yet, not called to sell all my possessions for the sake of following Christ, nor do I see that as a necessary way for me to show my affection to the Lord, but I'm delighted that for some people, that is how they will need to relate to Jesus Christ -- to grace. Our myriad responses to God's free gift helps broaden my understanding of God's bigness. He interacts with us each on our own level, and that will subsequently manifest itself in oh-so-many ways.
I want to be well.
Only Jesus is willing to do the dirty work to make me clean.
I want to be well.