The actor John Ratzenberger is most widely known for the role of know-it-all bar fly Cliff Claven on the television series “Cheers.”
But recently I saw Ratzenberger play a very different character in what Netflix characterized as a “faith-based movie.”
Ratzenberger had the title role in “The Woodcarver,” a 2012 film shot in British Columbia.
The story opens with a teenage boy, Matthew Stevenson, vandalizing the Baptist church that his family attends.
The boy’s image is caught on security cameras, but the pastor of the church declines to bring a complaint against him if the kid will help repair the damage he has done.
It soon becomes clear that in vandalizing the church Matthew was acting out his frustration over the separation of his parents, Rita and Jack
both the separation itself and the high level of tension it has created in the family.
The boy has a particularly bad relationship with his father.
The pastor of the church prevails on a retired and widowed woodcarver named Ernest Otto to replace the hand-worked beams he had originally provided.
Matthew, who has done some work on the church building, begins to help out at Ernest’s shop and starts to learn about the craft.
Although Jack initially objects to this arrangement, Matthew leaves home temporarily to live and work with his new mentor.
I won’t tell the rest of the story, which is somewhat complex.
But the key to the tale is a piece of advice that Ernest gives Matthew several times: Before you act, ask yourself, “WWJD … What would Jesus do?”
That’s it. Ernest doesn’t quote Scripture passages or lecture the boy on the theology of the Holy Trinity: Just ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”
The boy clearly knows what Ernest means without the need for embellishment.
This story focuses attention on one aspect of the ministry of Jesus
the example he set with his life on earth, an example of integrity, compassion, piety, and personal responsibility.
We sometimes hear homilists encourage us to “go and be Jesus to the world around you,” and they don’t mean by that that any of us should take on the Divine Nature.
They mean that while we believe that Jesus is present in the here and now in the Eucharist, we can help his presence radiate from the altar and out the doors of the church and down the street and across state lines and over international borders.
We can do that by being human in the same way that Jesus was human: by respecting other people and their property, by caring for those who need care, by putting the wellbeing of others before our own convenience and security, by recognizing the value of every life, by treating people gently, by being healers rather than judges, and by using natural resources and our own material wealth prudently and justly.
We Christians have a rich faith, and we can grow over a lifetime by joining others in worship, reading Scripture, attending classes, and participating in faith sharing.
But, as Pope Francis has often reminded us, our faith is fulfilled when we live it “on the outskirts,” out in the world.
Toward that goal, there’s hardly a better place to start than by asking the woodcarver’s question: “WWJD . . . What would Jesus do?”