More than 500 years after the Protestant Reformation, Christians still debate the relative importance of good works versus faith in Jesus for salvation. Each team has its favorite proof-texts. Catholics may cite the Epistle of James for the proposition that “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26) while Protestants lean on St. Paul’s words in Romans 3:28 (“a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law”).
Never mind that the two authors were probably addressing different issues: St. Paul the question of whether Jewish Christians had an advantage over Gentile ones, and St. James the problem of hypocrisy among professed Christ-followers who didn’t show care toward their neighbors. Humans being humans, any religious rule can be turned to self-serving ends, as illustrated by this satiric Lenten contribution by Donal Mahoney, who describes himself as “a believing but misbehaving Roman Catholic”.
Waiting for the Umpire
by Donal Mahoney
Ralph never planned on dying
but when he did, he was swept away
like a child’s kite blown astray.
When he arrived at his destination,
he heard angels singing, harps playing
and Louis Armstrong on the trumpet
so he figured this must be heaven.
A nice old man at the gate, however,
waved him away without directions.
This confused Ralph until he found
an open window in the basement,
climbed in and found an elevator
that took him to the top floor.
There a smiling angel with big wings
walked him up a thousand concrete stairs
and showed him to an empty seat.
Ralph was in the bleachers now
with millions of others, simply waiting.
None of them had a cushion to sit on.
But down in the padded box seats
Ralph saw rabbis, priests and ministers
sitting in the front row, simply waiting.
His barber, Al, was sitting with them.
For 30 years Al had been asking Ralph
while trimming his few remaining tufts of hair
if he had finally been saved or was he still lost.
Ralph would always tell Al he believed in God
but that every year he cheated on his taxes.
Sin is sin, Ralph would quietly point out.
Faith is all you need, Al would shout.
Seeing his barber now in the front row,
Ralph figured that maybe Al had stopped
cheating on his dying wife.
Otherwise, Ralph figured, Al would be sitting
in the cheap seats, waiting with everyone else
in the amphitheater for the Umpire to appear.
I always love reading Donal’s poetry. This wonderful poem is no exception to his unique style… structurally rich, a kind of lyricism hiding out between the lines, and as always, an honest voice.