John was not surprised. He had come this Sunday in order to do just such a thing. He ambled along the aisles and smiled to the young couples, winked at more than one of the young women. Nick was nearby, passing along the golden dish with the wide ends. Having proceeded along the center aisle, they came to the end of their deed and walked more quickly into the bowels of the House of the Master. The pastor delivered his sermon. The true benefit of prayer is to acknowledge and wonder at the creation of god; one does wrong by taking for oneself the activities which bring men closer to heaven. The sermon was standard and the gathering comprised of many grey coats, yellow dresses, glasses and polyester slacks, cars made same and sameness made more similar, residing comfort. Nick and John remained in the rear of the building, separating the cash from the checks. John found a surprise in his dish. He took it out and showed it to Nick.
“What on earth?”
“Happens all the time,” Nick said.
“What will we do with a ring?”
John had not been collecting the tithes very long, but he enjoyed himself thoroughly. He talked with young and strong Tom, Bob and Benjamin about the service and the plans for the church to expand its property, but only briefly. He sent Tom and Bob to church storage in order to pick up bread and punch-powder. He told Benjamin to collect the random tithe-papers in the service-area, specifically to look under every chair. He would remain in the service-area for at least one-half hour. John then talked to Teresa, Charlene and Tracy near the coffee maker, together ingesting pastries. Tracy explained what grade-level she had attained; Teresa still loved horses; Charlene needed to speak not at all, too cute. As each of the young men returned in succession, the young ladies looked to them for giggles and attention, but John was satisfied. Once home, he explained to Christopher how the table was to be set, with the good silverware and the tan table-cloth. Christopher cooked roast beef and potatoes with green-beans from a can, a favorite. John told him to pick up some pastries and pretzels, along with a case of beer. Not sure he would be able to finish all of the work, Christopher moved as quickly as possible and at last was unable to re-clean the bathroom. He thought John might not notice; he needed more beans and ran that errand. John spent the interval-time removing his Sunday best and donning his leisure clothes: a plaid button-down shirt and jeans. He combed what remained of his hair and trimmed the fur on his ears.
“You back yet?” he yelled.
Frustrated, he sat in the dining room, bowed his head and rested it on his folded hands.
“Lord, let everything go right. And get Christopher back here.”
Nick, James with Susan and Ruth arrived before Christopher returned.
“It’s good to see you here,” a beaming John said. “Make yourselves at home.”
Now was John’s favorite part of Sundays. The group brought out their bibles. Pastor Blemish had been in top form, the lesson good. They sat at the mostly-empty table in the dining room near the bland-beige walls. A perpetually dying Jesus watched as the group read. They started with the beginning of Matthew, 17:14. John read aloud the passage they had been assigned, and listened carefully as the narrative emerged. Just as the passage was complete, Christopher entered.
“Our leader has returned,” Nick said.
“Oh, everyone’s here?” Christopher asked.
“We couldn’t start without you.”
“We did start without him,” Ruth commented.
“…you know what I mean.”
John sat serious and quiet.
“You get everything?”
“I think so,” Christopher replied.
Christopher went into the kitchen while the group waited. Ruth and Susan offered assistance, but
“Let him go. It’s his job.”
Susan and Ruth set themselves down again. The four chatted until Christopher completed his chores.
“How is everyone?” Christopher asked.
Each nodded and grinned excitedly. Christopher beamed as much as John; he opened his texts.
“Where were we?”
John replied quickly.
Ruth and Nick opened their texts, paging back and forth.
“Ah, yes. That’s right. We didn’t get very far last time, did we?” Christopher almost laughed as he spoke. John and Nick slowly found the correct passage, John seeming impatient to begin. Ruth patted John on the shoulder as if to distract him and Susan shook her head slightly.
“Would anyone like to start?”
All turned to John.
“I would,” John said.
“When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.’ ‘O unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’ Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn't we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’”
As the group paused for reflection Christopher broke the silence.
“The passage seems to be straightforward…”
“Oh, I don’t think it’s straightforward,” John began.
“How did I know you wouldn’t?”
The rest of the group laughed.
“You said that we should read each passage with care and pay close attention.”
“I did say that.”
“Well, this seems to be about faith.”
“But it says more than that, I think.”
“Please, tell us.”
“Well, the last part tells where Jesus is revealed to them. With god.”
“This is the part where Jesus performs miracles, but not only that.”
“What do they seem to you?”
“They meet a crowd, and the crowd doesn’t have the Word.”
“It certainly is a passage about the divinity of Jesus.”
“The man comes from the crowd, so he is one of those who need belief and direction.”
“The boy stumbles and falls into the water and fire because he had seizures.”
“The seizures are signs that he doesn’t have faith. He falls literally, but he also falls spiritually. The water and fire are dangerous, but life-giving. So, these are things that someone needs direction to master. Otherwise, they fall and harm themself.”
“That's not bad, but remember…”
“And that falling is a lack of contact with the lord. The boy has no direction ‘cause he has no faith. Like the crowd.”
“I support much of what you say, but in the ancient world epilepsy was considered a disease
of the spirit, ‘the sacred disease.’ It seems this boy has epilepsy…”
“And Jesus said ‘O, unbelieving and perverse generation’. He says that directly.”
“Well, the bible is an account of a miracle that happened, but it is a human account of the
miracle. Since it’s a human account, it’s flawed. So, we have to be careful.”
“This part says that with the seed as tiny as a mustard seed…and that’s a small seed!...with a
seed that small, one can move a mountain.”
“It does mean that a small amount of faith can do wondrous things.”
“So, the disciples and the crowd did not even have that much. That’s why he was sick. The demon is a lack of belief.”
“I think you are largely correct, but it doesn’t mean that those who are not yet initiated are diseased.”
“All you need is a bit.”
“The message of Jesus is compassion. He is empathy and Goodness personified. The worst thing one
can do is pervert His word. But remember that He's always there, no matter what.”
“I don’t see any perversion in faith,” Nick added, and John agreed.