“Jesus!” the old lady cried. “You’ve got good blood! I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! I know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I’ll give you all the money I’ve got!”….
“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead.” The Misfit continued, “and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow him…”
— A Good Man is Hard to Find — Flannery O’Connor
The Misfit, a criminal on the run, has this old lady on the ropes. His buddies have already wiped out the rest of the family: the ladies son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren. She seems to be next on the list. She begs and pleads. She appeals to his bloodlines and social dignity. How could someone with his blood intentionally murder someone with her ladyship?
Her initial rhetoric fails to work. Appealing to societal norms didn’t budge this convicted criminal from his stance.
A spiritual plea! Yes, this must work! She calls him to reach down into the depths of his core, the very part that drives each one of us, either consciously or unconsciously, and asks him to examine the truth. Misfit — pray! Ask Jesus to help guide you to the bottom of your frustrations and sins. But still, don’t shoot a lady! Its not proper!
The lady, in her last moments, with a chance to “throw away everything and follow him,” could not give up her earthly dreams and desires. Societies code consumed her core, her very essence, her soul, and drove her to call upon the name of the Lord in a way that failed to be sincere, reeking of blasphemy and dishonor. Her weakest moment could have been her finest hour, whether on earth or in heaven.
At this pivotal moment of grave weakness, when she lost all control of her life, The Misfit gave her a choice: “to be real, or to be unreal”, as Thomas Merton said. To be real, meaning “The secret of my full identity is hidden in [Christ]. He alone can make me who I am, or rather who I will be when at least I fully begin to be.”
My grandfather, my mother’s father, passed away today. He lived much of his life like the lady in Flannery O’Connor’s short story. But…
When The Misfit came masked as liver failure, his greatest strengths evolved into his greatest weakness’s. He couldn’t physically overpower The Misfit, like he could have in the past. His intelligence, which was great, couldn’t confound and confuse him into submission. He only had one choice between the two options that remained — to be real, or to be unreal. And the question for us became, “what will he choose?”
I am immediately drawn to St. Augustine’s Confessions. Augustine’s mother bothers her priest incessantly about her wayward son. She spends every hour of every day in grief because of her son’s spiritual condition. After many discussions about her son’s soul, the priest wearily tells her to “leave me and go in peace. It cannot be that the son of these tears should be lost.”
Well, I can only speak for my mother, but her tears did not go unnoticed by our Father.
“It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance.” — Luke 5:31-32
A few months ago, during the middle of the night when sleep escaped him, he listened to the words of Billy Graham on a late night television program. The words of God’s grace reigned down upon his once deaf heart and overwhelmed his sick and tired soul to repentance. Its as if, after years of wrestling with the nature of truth and whether or not God and his plan of redemption through His son Jesus Christ really existed, this fresh perspective on God’s love, from a mouthpiece not relationally connect to him, allowed him to “simply relax in the presence of God [he] half believe[d] in and ask[ed] for a touch of folly” (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel).
Before he passed on to be in the presence of his new Father, the one who loves him in spite of all his past sin and in spite of all the beautiful things he created, he was able to cry to the Lord, not in the way the lady did, but in all reverence and sincerity, and asked to be taken from this world. His peace with his Creator had been made. His peace with my mother had been made. He could go home, now — to a place void of pain, sickness, and vanity.
Once and for all, at the exact moment it mattered most, he decide to be Real.
Praise God for his obtrusive, filthy, beautiful Grace.