“Familiarity breeds contempt”
I have heard this saying for a good chunk of my life. Oddly enough I’m not sure I could fully explain what it means. Lucky for me, I’ve seemed to place it in sentences appropriately, without embarrassing myself. I have been thinking about it lately in relationship to the Church (“Capital C” Church, the body of Christ). I decided to look up the origin.
“Familiarity breeds contempt.”
Aesop (c. 620-564 B.C.)
The moral of “The Fox and the Lion” story in Aesop’s Fables
In traditional English translations of Aesop’s Fables, there’s a phrase at the end of each brief tale that summarizes “the moral of the story.” The origin of the proverbial saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” is widely credited to the traditional translation of Aesop’s fable “The Fox and the Lion,” which reads:
When first the Fox saw the Lion he was terribly frightened, and ran away and hid himself in the wood. Next time however he came near the King of Beasts he stopped at a safe distance and watched him pass by. The third time they came near one another the Fox went straight up to the Lion and passed the time of day with him, asking him how his family were, and when he should have the pleasure of seeing him again; then turning his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony.
Do you remember the first time you came to The Sanctuary or the first time you went to any church? You didn’t know anyone, you were nervous. Maybe the people sitting in the row reminded you of the “Lion?” You know that pit in your stomach, you tell yourself, “If I just don’t make eye contact, they won’t notice me.” You quietly walk in, take a seat, and as soon as the service is over you quickly exit, all the while hoping to not be noticed by the “Lion” (er... the people). You successfully make it to your car without being apprehended by someone who wants to talk, or introduce themselves and ask you a lot of questions.
During the week you think to yourself, “I liked the feel of the church, I actually took away a nugget from the message the Pastor spoke, so maybe I’ll go again.” The next Sunday arrives and you start the entire process all over again.
This time the people (Lion) don’t seem as intimidating. You don’t mind making eye contact and if someone says hello, you reply in kind. You find your seat and maybe this time you don’t sit on the back row. This time you look around more and realize that others are enjoying the service which helps you feel more comfortable. The service ends and you slip quietly out the back… again.
Before you know it you are coming back week after week and the uncomfortable feelings you had on the first visit have faded into what has now become familiar.
You have made friends, attended a class and purposefully looked to connect with people. Sunday after Sunday you chose to go to church. It became the most valuable part of your week and you looked forward to seeing familiar faces. It became hard to remember what life was like prior to the day you were so reluctant to walk into church.
For many of us this scenario is true. We become so comfortable with our experience, we become unaware of a new person, or family walking in our church today, feeling the very feelings we had, not that long ago. Remember the courage it took to go that first step and not only drive to church, but to walk in the door? We surround ourselves with the few people that we are comfortable with and spend any time before or after service catching up with the events of the week.
It becomes easy to become so familiar that we don’t notice anymore. We see, but we don’t pay attention and notice.
Jesus always noticed.
He noticed the one at the back of the crowd, he noticed the little children, he noticed the sinner, he noticed the tax collector in the tree, He noticed and if we we want to follow Him and become more like Him today then we were yesterday, we need to notice!
Not only do we need to pay attention to those who sit in the same rows that we do on Sundays, we need to notice those we work with, those we go to school with, those who serve us at checkout lines, those who we meet at the park while our children play together.
If we don’t notice them, who will?
Instead of being comfortable and being the church of familiarity, let’s try to be a church (a people) that finds new roads…to those who have quit before they started or are indifferent or are too afraid to take that first step. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did?