It's easy to cherish the enthusiasm we have for our traditions, our patterns, rituals and programs. The challenge is to curb this kind of passion, to be willing to bend, and even break, those patterns that keep people away from the saving grace of the Lord. Unfortunately, whenever we talk about making changes in the church, we get accused of taking good spiritual food and throwing it to the dogs.
Like Jesus, we have to be willing to curb our enthusiasm for time-honored traditions if we're going to reach a generation that knows nothing of our practices and patterns. We can't afford to come across like the first disciples, insiders who were certainly excited about their faith, but also cranky and basically uninterested in sharing their discoveries with the outsiders around them. It's important to be willing to bend and even break our patterns, and to learn from the culture around us as we seek to improve our communication techniques. After all, didn't Jesus learn a little something from the Canaanite woman, when she expanded his awareness of what even the dogs under the table needed to eat?
That's a powerful image, when you think about it: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, learning a life-changing lesson from a common Canaanite woman. She challenged him and stretched him and pushed him to see a new possibility for ministry to the Gentiles. There are people all around us who can do the very same thing, even in a culture that is often seen as "going to the dogs."
Equally important, we are challenged to perceive the faith of our neighbors, even if their trust is raw and unrefined. True believers are found not only in groups like the 12 disciples, insiders who are convinced that they have a corner on spirituality. No, sincere faith is found among Canaanite women, recovering drug addicts, recent immigrants and all the other people we tend to label as outsiders. Authentic trust is found among twenty-somethings who have never darkened a church door, tech workers who scratch their heads when confronted with organized religion and professionals at midlife who are wondering about the meaning of it all. We miss an important connection point if we fail to sense the presence of faith in these lives, and to see this faith as a potential foundation for a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus didn't miss it. He found the faith of the Canaanite woman and used it as a springboard for a spectacular healing.