To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some (1 Corinthians 9:25, English Standard Version).
Once, while teaching in a foreign country, I met a woman who needed to improve her English for work but couldn’t afford to pay for lessons. She happened to be an enthusiastic participant in a church I wanted to learn more about. We made a deal: I would go to church with her on Sundays; afterward, she would explain to me in English what had happened and answer any questions I might have.
After our first Sunday worship together, we went to a classy café nearby to talk about our shared experience. I ordered a regular lunch and offered to buy hers. She declined my offer and ate an inexpensive order of breadsticks while telling me about her Christian tradition.
Our second Sunday together went much the same.
After our third shared Sunday worship, my friend asked me if I would mind going to one of her favorite restaurants to talk. Although it was a simple cafeteria, the atmosphere was pleasant enough while the food was quite inexpensive. Instead of breadsticks, she bought a dish of this and another of that. I got my usual, relatively large, lunch and we talked more about Jesus Christ from the point of view of the tradition she loved.
After our fourth Sunday liturgy, I finally got it. Again we went to the cafeteria she enjoyed. Again she bought this and that to eat. While I didn’t buy food identical to hers, this time I did get dishes close to hers in number, size, and price. While she was always too polite to criticize me about it, even if she had wanted to, I no longer made obstacles to the Gospel out of where we ate, and what we ate, and who was going to pay for it. I no longer introduced obstacles from Pluto, false god of money, and Bacchus, false god of consumption, into our sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
My friend, participating in a Christian tradition quite different from my own, taught me a lesson about what was important in terms of my own as well. Through her patience, I learned that my imagined generosity was really oblivious condescension. From the first I had joined her at Sunday worship to learn more about her understanding of a large and important denomination. It took me four Sundays, though, to learn from her about the right spirit we both sought to share.
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