I have a vivid memory from my grade school years. It involves waiting in line for a hot lunch in the cafeteria. Even at that young age, many of my most significant experiences involved food. Everyday, we would line up as a class, and walk down to the lunch room. The order in which we walked was the order in which we would wait for our meal. But there was always that one kid. You know the one- the bigger bully who always wanted to take cuts. One of his little henchmen would save him a spot and he would parade up past the rest of us. Inevitably, as the cutter would try to get in line, the others behind him would begin to protest loudly- "Hey, back of the line!" This was usually loud enough to draw a teacher's attention, and the would-be line usurper would head back to their rightful place. I can remember harboring a sense of grim satisfaction each time this would happen. "Serves him right," I would conclude in my mind.
Recently, reading through the book of Luke in the Message, I ran across a phrase that sparked this memory. Jesus is talking about John the Baptist and how important a role he had in welcoming the Messiah. But then Jesus says that even the lowest person is ahead of John in the new kingdom. People who accepted his message loved this, but the Pharisees were unhappy. They had rejected John's message. And listen to the words written about them: "(they) wouldn't think of giving up their place in line to their inferiors."
This strikes me as the perfect picture of spirituality gone wrong. The Pharisees were at the pinnacle of spiritual understanding and wisdom in their day, and yet their hearts were all wrong. They looked at their position and place in life as something they had properly earned and were now entitled to. No one was going to send them to the back of the line!
I've been pondering lately what it looks like for us to live in a way where we would willingly give up our place in line. Anyone whose ever waited in line at Disneyland for hours on end knows how we become fond of our place- our little territory. And yet as I look at Jesus, I can't help but see someone who regularly gave up his place in line.
He came to the world as a King, and yet he was born in a stable. He was the rabbi of all rabbis, and yet he taught in the wilderness. He was God's Messiah, and yet he died on a cross. He could have commanded armies, and yet he directed a motley crew of fishermen and tax collectors. Could it be that God's idea of importance is vastly different than our own? Could it be that the very things we hold to so tightly are the things we need to let go of in order to experience real freedom?
Giving up your place in line- what would that look like for you? Maybe it is a literal idea where at the grocery store you could allow someone else first. But I suspect that if we stop there, we're not going deep enough. I think it means living out the words of Philippians 2:2, "Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand." (from the Message)
May you journey with the attitude of one who would gladly give up their place in line. Peace.