It’s a very great struggle. We try to tell ourselves, when we sometimes notice it, that it’s nothing. That we’re just imagining it. That we’re not really that way. We pray, ‘Make us worthy, Master, in freedom and without fear of condemnation, to dare call upon you the heavenly God, as Father, and to say, Our Father…’ and then, having excused ourselves once again, by having partaken of ‘the holy and life-giving mysteries,’ almost without thinking, we look upon another human being, and despise him.
Yes, this is true of me. I hope it’s not true of you, but I know that I am not the only one who piously despises my neighbor, while outwardly speaking words and doing acts of love towards others, those others whom I like, who attract me or are attracted to me, from whom I want, or think I need, something, anyone at all except those whom the Lord would have me love: my enemies, those who repel me, who hate me, who are ugly and undesirable, no less than those whom I envy.
What is worse, is that when I see one of those whom I despise (of course, I hide it from everyone else and just smile) doing a good deed, doing what I say I see Jesus doing, that makes me despise him even more, and I think to myself, ‘Who does he think he is? He can’t do that. He doesn’t know the Lord. He’s just pretending, that sly one. I know all about him.’ If I were a woman, I would just change all the pronouns to ‘she’ and ‘her’… as a man, I hardly notice women enough to despise them.
But it’s true, what our enemies say about us. We are hypocrites. What other explanation can there be for people who say they believe one thing, yet do another? Even when we are doing good, we make sure that others notice, and thank us. If they don’t, well, we despise them anyway, and secretly, so we can maintain our pious disguise. Clad in our religious camouflage, we hope that even God Himself won’t be able to find us in this jungle. Yes, it was a garden once, but we’ve brought it under control.
God help us! Even a hypocrite can pray, but only when confessing what he knows for sure, that even those he thinks least of, those he despises most, are worthier than he of obtaining any good, in this world or any other. Only when he realizes who it is he’s been despising and continues to despise, even at the moment he leaves the place of prayer. For there is no prayer truly uttered that goes unanswered, and no answer that we let ourselves quickly accept, since we think we know best what we want.
Yes, we want things our way. No wonder the Reformers were so focused on our incapacity to live in love. No wonder they believed so strongly, and preached so fervently, that we are utterly depraved, that we deserve hell and an eternity of painful darkness. They could find no answer in themselves, just as we cannot find anything in us that can avert our self-destruction. For he that despises his neighbor hates himself as well as God. Yes, so accept Jesus, the Reformers said. He will save you.
And yes, they were, and are, right, but in theory only. Now comes the practice, for works cannot save but are indispensable in the life of grace. We are back to square one, realizing that if we despise our neighbor, even our brother, we are lost, because beyond all reason and sense, deep down we know who our neighbor is: Jesus Christ. Whatever else we believe, or practice, whatever we use to cover up our deformity, it remains. We despise another creature for whom Christ died, and in whom He lives.
Again, God help us! Help me, Lord, to despise no man or woman, aged or young, of whatever race, of whatever state of life, even all those ‘protected minorities’ that the happily God-denying authorities of this world have commanded us to respect. It isn’t about what I look like, Lord, before myself or others. It’s about what I look like to You. Again, Lord, I acknowledge I am lost, I am nothing in Your presence and even in my own eyes. Show Yourself to me in everyone I meet. Help me to not despise You.
For yes, You alone are Lord.