|01-02-2006 - Traces, n.2
“Where in your time, in your body has Jesus redeemed you? Show me where because I don’t see the place. If there was a place where Jesus had redeemed you, that would be the place for you to be, but which of you can find it?”
At the beginning of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, the would-be anti-Christ Hazel Motes says to Mrs.
Wally B. Hitchcock, a passenger seated in front of him on a train: “I reckon you think you have been redeemed.” Mrs. Hitchcock, clearly taken aback by the question, “snatched at her collar,” not knowing how to answer the question. “I reckon you think you have been redeemed,” Hazel insisted. “She blushed. After a second she said, yes life was an inspiration, and then she said she was hungry and asked if he didn’t want to go into the diner.” Thus begins Hazel Mote’s relentless efforts to expose Christian hypocrisy by founding the “Church of truth without Jesus Christ crucified.”
When the disciples of John the Baptist asked Him whether He was truly the Messiah, Jesus pointed to His miracles as sign. Hazel Motes accepts the challenge and rejects Jesus because he doesn’t see these miracles happening. “Where in your time, in your body has Jesus redeemed you? Show me where because I don’t see the place. If there was a place where Jesus had redeemed you, that would be the place for you to be, but which of you can find it?” There is no evidence for such a thing as redemption, says Motes. Instead, he preaches a Church without Christ where “the deaf don’t hear, the blind don’t see, the lame don’t walk, the dumb don’t talk, and the dead stay that way.”
How do we respond to Mote’s challenge?
Begin with Jesus’ response to the disciples sent by John the Baptist. Jesus did not come simply to heal the sick. His miracles were signs of what He had come to accomplish. He cured the paralytic lowered through a hole in the ceiling in order to show His power to forgive sins. He multiplied the loaves and fishes in order to point to His offer of another kind of nourishment making possible another kind of life. It is not enough, however, to say that the physical, material results of His miracles are merely pointers to miracles in the “spiritual” dimension of life. Nor is it a matter of miraculous events in this life pointing to another life to come, where the “real” miracle occurs. Such a dualism will only keep Jesus “external” to our present life, as if it were a matter of “this life plus Jesus.” In that case, Mrs. Hitchcock would have been right: redemption is a matter of “inspiration.” There is no “life plus Jesus” when St. Paul says that his present life, his only life, is the life of Christ within him.
It is not enough to marvel at what happened at the moment of Christ’s miracles. We have to also look at the change in how those cured looked at life afterwards. When the paralytic woke up in the morning after the miracle, how did he perceive the day ahead of him? How about the man born blind when he saw his first sunrise the morning after the miracle? What about the widow of Nain? Lazarus? Or, for that matter, those for whom no physical healing occurred, such as Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery, etc.? How did they look at life after their encounter with Jesus? The evidence of redemption is precisely this change in their relation with everything around them. Redemption brings about a change in awareness, a change in the way we see and judge life, in the way we live all the circumstances of our life.
These circumstances may be exactly the same as they were before the encounter with Jesus, but now everything is changed, everything appears new. Can the change not be best described in terms of being now able to hear, to see, to walk, to talk, and to really live?
Without this change in the “structure of our relation with the real” (Fr. Giussani’s words), what we have is indeed the “Church of Christ without Christ.”