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Friday, July 30, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Matthew 9

I had an interesting conversation with one of my former classmates at my high school reunion last week. Let me take a moment and put the conversation in context for you.

The classmate with whom I spoke grew up in a household that had no religious background/affiliation whatsoever. On her best days, my classmate was dismissive of those of us who claimed a faith. On other days, she was downright cynical about the role faith played in our lives.

Fast forward twenty-five years. My classmate had lived through a series of challenges in her life. She had lost a family member to whom she had been particularly close; she had several career setbacks; and she watched as a loved one had a painful run in with the law.

All of these things (and more!) caused her to begin questioning the meaning of life. Eventually she began exploring Christianity and found a faith that she could call her own. That was the wonderfully exciting part!

It would have been nice if her story ended there. It did not.

In the process of claiming her faith, my classmate acted as if she were one of the few that had REALLY found God. She had a condescending attitude toward those whose faith took on a different character than her faith and drew upon a wider range of resources than she drew upon (she was a biblical literalist who saw the Bible as the only valid resource to inform her faith).

As our conversation progressed, it became increasingly clear that we had little to talk about because she was more interested in exploring our differences than identifying our common ground.

I was reminded of the conversation from last weekend as I read today’s passage from Matthew – for in that passage there is a section where Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ criticism of him for hanging out with those folks they considered riff raff. In response to that criticism, Jesus said: “I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

The thing that struck me was the dynamic relationship between the words “outsider” and “insider”. At a time when lots of folks are rethinking what it means to be the church, there is an increasing amount of energy devoted to seeking “outsiders”. That is truly a great thing!

The sad part, however, is what happens to some of those former “outsiders”. In the process of claiming their faith, some develop a disturbing amount of arrogance and condescension toward those who understand/practice their faith in different ways. That arrogance and condescension causes some of those former “outsiders” to be transformed into ultimate “insiders” – individuals who now think they have a corner on the market on Christianity. How ironic is that?!

All of this reminds me of the tremendous challenge we face in our attempts to live out our faith: how do we people of faith (the so-called “insiders”) stay connected to other perspectives (the “outsiders”) who have much to offer us; and how do those of us who have recently viewed ourselves as “outsiders” maintain a sense of humility and respect for those who have a deep and long-standing faith. That is the question I invite you to consider today.

Til next time…

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