Each one of the readings for today has something to say about faith. They caused me to examine the workings of faith in an interaction as simple as those in today's Gospel where Jesus asks the Apostles to search the meaning of doing "only what we ought to have done."
My search comes from reflecting on an incident, typical of some that occur occasionally at my door.
The back door of my house opens to a small treed door yard; the door yard opens, unfenced onto an alley. This sounds rather barren, but attention to aesthetics and landscaping has softened the appearance of the property and the face it presents to the world.
'Come here at once and take your place at the table.'
To some eyes it may look inviting or, perhaps more accurately, not intimidating. I venture that estimate because occasionally someone, only slightly known to me, rings the doorbell.
"Hi Butch! What's up?" Butch (a name he earned by his exploits in his better days) does not have much going for him now. The "not much" includes a peaked cap, a thin frame covered by shabby garments, a stringy beard, an aged weather-beaten face, a few teeth, a bit of hope, some expectation and a subtle wariness.
His gaze around the door yard appraised its condition and he asked, "Do you need any help?" From time to time, it happens that I have needed help and did so on this occasion. The buildup of oak leaves plugging the rain gutter needed removing.
Gamely we set to work though Butch took the lead: "Got any gloves? Let me move the ladder. Mucky stuff." He dropped dripping globs of leaves and mud into a pail. With the job done, he moved to the real purpose of the visit, understood but unspoken till now, "Can you help me out?"
I did "help him out," albeit grudgingly. He gave signs of gratitude: he extended a bony clenched hand, inviting a fist bump much as I have seen athletes do after a mutually satisfying play. He raised his right hand to his heart and expressed his thanks. He said, "You're a good man, bro." He turned away and left.
This interaction left me bereft of satisfaction. Perhaps I could see it as a business deal – a contract agreed upon with payment upon completion. The comfort of that frivolous explanation vanished at the instant of its hatching.
Or I could see it as a "one of a kind" - little likelihood of that. Though Butch has sensitivity in his personal relations and an awareness of social conventions, I believe his needs may bring him back. What to make of it?
By way of paraphrase of the words in today's Gospel, I have "done only what I ought to have done." On the other hand, though I may not have found the mustard seed of faith, strong enough to command the mulberry tree to move as Jesus explained, I may know what to do when Butch calls again.
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)