I have flown first-class exactly one time in my life, and at the risk of exaggerating, I do need to say – it was the place where all of my hopes and dreams came true.
Image via Pixabay
Years ago, when my wife and I were flying back from our honeymoon, we had a layover where we needed to switch planes. The first leg of the trip home had been rocky, with cramped seating, long delays, obnoxious seatmates (the other people, not my wife), an ancient-looking plane that shook terribly and made terrifying noises, and a lot of air sicknesses as we hit some intense and scary turbulence. We deplaned feeling exhausted, rattled, and stressed out, and speed-walked through the airport to make our connecting flight in time.
(And yes, I am very aware of how “first world problems” this all sounds.)
We made it in time, and while we were waiting to board, a voice clicked on the intercom, telling us that our flight was overbooked in coach, and for a small and reasonable fee, the first 5 passengers who came forward could get bumped up to first class.
Guess who was standing right next to the check-in desk when this happened? After our exhausting first leg of the journey, and feeling that it was the finale of our honeymoon and that this would be a much more pleasant way to end it, my wife and I upgraded to 2 first class tickets, for the first and final time in our lives.
With my miniscule experience, my observation is this: first class isn’t a little better than coach, it’s craaaaazy better than coach.
Better and larger seating, much more comfortable accommodations, “free” and unlimited (and actually good) food and drinks, much better service from the flight attendants, etc. It was a really nice way to conclude our honeymoon, and while I got it at a bargain and could never justify the full-price expense since then, it was a fun one-time experience, to get bumped from the cheaper seats up to the best seats in the plane, especially knowing that we would never do it again.
As a rule, the cheap seats are just fine for us, both on a literal airplane, and also in the broader metaphor of life.
In a culture where we are constantly pushed to rise higher, get promoted, earn more, pursue the title, to increase our influence or power or fame, to climb the ladder of success, to gain the best seats in the house…this proposed way of life gets brutally confronted by the life and teachings of Jesus.
While at a dinner party, Jesus once shared the following:
When Jesus noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14.7-14)
That last line is a real kicker: For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
In other words: One way or another, you will be humbled. The only question is whether you will choose the humble path willingly, and let God exalt you, or whether you will choose to exalt yourself, and then let God humble you.
So let’s say what shouldn’t need to be said: Choosing humility, and letting God lift you up, is better.
It’s also exactly what Jesus did.
Jesus, who had all the glory of Deity in Heaven, who had every possible blessing at His disposable, who had the adoration of the heavenly hosts and the security of His heavenly position, who was exalted in the highest places – this same Jesus left it all behind. Laid it all aside. Gave it all up.
For what? For exactly this:
“He made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” (Phil 2.7-8)
Jesus chose the lowest place. He left His throne for the cheap seats. He chose the path of poverty. He chose the life of servanthood and self-sacrifice, not thinking about Himself, but putting others before Himself. Jesus doesn’t just teach us to seek the humble path, He actually did it Himself.
This Teacher of ours is no hypocrite. Everything He taught us, He lived out too, setting the example for us to follow.
However, like His banquet seat parable teaches us, choosing the humble route isn’t the end of the story:
“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place
and gave Him the Name that is above every name,
that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2.9-11)
Jesus humbled Himself; God then exalted Him. Jesus didn’t need to exalt Himself, as He knew that His Father would eventually do so.
That is the point of the parable for us, too. When we humble ourselves, we can trust that God will raise us up, in His way and His time, even if we don’t see the fulness of it until Heaven. As James wrote, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up,” (Jam 4.10).
Either way, we will be humbled, and either way, exaltation will happen. The only question is what we will try and do ourselves, and what we will submit to and allow God to do.
Henri Nouwen said:
The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record – that’s what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.
The way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility. It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place! Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing? Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life.
What sets Christians apart, when they are walking in the way of Jesus? We are the ones who choose the cheap seats at the banquet. We choose to humble ourselves. We don’t boast and brag and self-exalt. Any advancement will be in His will, and His timing, and His way, and He will be the one to do it. In the meantime, we choose the cheap seats, as this is the way of Jesus Christ, and we simply trust God for the rest.