A few weeks ago, I heard a joke at church. Then a few days later when I was blog-hopping I found it again. I thought it was funny and wanted someone to share the laugh with, so I sent it to my fiancé. He didn’t find it funny, and that got me thinking.
The Steak and Fish Joke
John Smith was the only Protestant to move into a large Catholic neighborhood. On the first Friday of Lent, John was outside grilling a big juicy steak on his grill. Meanwhile, all of his neighbors were eating cold tuna fish for supper. This went on each Friday of Lent. On the last Friday of Lent, the neighborhood men got together and decided that something had to be done about John; he was tempting them to eat meat each Friday of Lent, and they couldn’t take it anymore.
They decided to try to convert John to Catholicism. They went over and talked to him and were happy that he decided to join his neighbors and become Catholic. They took him to Church, and the Priest sprinkled some water over him, and said, “You were born a Baptist, you were raised a Baptist, and now you are a Catholic.”
The men were relieved that now their biggest Lenten temptation was resolved. The next year’s Lenten season rolled around. The first Friday of Lent came, and just at supper time, when the neighborhood was sitting down to their tuna fish dinner, came the wafting smell of steak cooking on a grill.
The neighborhood men could not believe their noses! WHAT WAS GOING ON?
They called each other up and decided to meet over in John’s yard to see if he had forgotten it was the first Friday of Lent. The group arrived just in time to see John standing over his grill with a small pitcher of water. He was sprinkling some water over his steak on the grill, saying, “You were born a cow, you were raised a cow, and now you are a fish.”
Somehow we know that John didn’t become Catholic anymore than that steak is going to become a fish. There are a lot of John Smiths out there today, claiming to be fish when they’re still just steak. They say they are Christians and they believe in God, but nothing in their actions shows that. What they believe has not changed who they are or what they do. And the world is watching them and thinking, “If that is what a Christian is, I want none of it.”
There are many Christians today taking their baptism as lightly as John Smith, thinking that because a priest sprinkled some water over them, they are going to heaven. Just because they are baptized, they are saved, so it doesn’t matter if they eat steak on Fridays, skip church, or disobey the Ten Commandments. Their baptism was just their ticket to heaven, not the start of a relationship with God, and it means next to nothing to them.
That got me thinking about how often I take my own baptism for granted. It is easy to go through the motions, to just do the external things like not eating meat on Fridays or whatever else we think is the right thing to do. It is harder to make it personal, to start that relationship with God that He wants to have with us. It is harder to make sure our baptism does indeed change who we are, so that all the world looks at us and goes, “Wow, they are a Christian.”
Faith and Deeds
John’s deeds showed just how deep his faith went in his life. The apostle Paul had this to say about our faith and deeds:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. ~ James 2:14-26
Baptism is a sacrament of initiation, bringing us into the Church. It should be only the beginning of our faith journey. As James says, we need to show the world our faith by our deeds. And not just “deeds” such as giving up fish on Fridays in Lent. Catholics have been criticized by Protestants for deeds like that which often have no meaning. We should ask ourselves if we’re sacrificing our comfort—our meat on Fridays—to identify with Christ’s sufferings on Friday, or just because our mama taught us to do that and our neighbors expect it of us.
So maybe the joke isn’t funny. Maybe it’s sad. Maybe it’s also a lesson in baptism, deeds, and faith.