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The Awkwardness of Humility

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It was hot. Stifling, in fact. The A/C units at the Douala airport had passed on many years before. The overwhelming heat was further complicated by the discomfort of being in a relatively tiny “embarkation lounge,” with way too many people, waiting and waiting for the flight to be boarded. Three and a half hours after the appointed departure time, they announced that boarding would begin. I was sweating buckets. We all were. I was uncomfortable and grumpy and tired, and I just wanted to get into an air-conditioned space as soon as I could. No one queues in Douala, and I didn’t want to wrestle with other, equally exhausted people, so I prepared myself for the wait. But then, a young man came to me at the back of the group, and invited me to come forward, to the front, to be one of the first to board. I was not first or business class, and I was never sure what motivated his act of kindness...the fact that I was obviously a missionary, or that I looked so completely uncomfortable, or the fact that I was one of two white people on the flight. I suspected the latter, since the other Caucasian person gratefully accepted his invitation to go forward. It was very awkward for me, so I expressed my gratitude and rather than refusing, which had been my inclination, I invited him to take an elderly lady beside me and who was also looking very tired. He acknowledged my sentiment and they both thanked me, and he took her to the front of the line. There are moments when certain elements of our status afford us luxuries or opportunities or privileges that would not otherwise be forthcoming. A clergy person wearing a clerical collar is often given very nice seats in a restaurant. A “nasara” or a foreigner in Africa, is often also the recipient of preferential treatment. What is surprising about that is not so much the throwback to colonial histories that may motivate the gestures, but the extent to which some folks feel entitled to the gesture... This weekend, we explore Jesus’ reaction to the human proclivity to seek places of honor.

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