Proverbs 25:6-7 6 Do not exalt yourself in the king's presence, and do not claim a place among great men; it is better for him to say to you, "Come up here," than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman.
Luke 14:7-11 7 When he 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 man 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 your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Jesus took this proverb and fashioned it into a parable and a teaching about not exalting yourself. I’m not sure if that has any real application to the story I’m about to tell you, but it came to my mind.
When we traveled from Entebbe to Durban last Sunday, we flew through Johannesburg (“Joburg” to the locals). As we boarded the South African Airline 737 to fly to Durban, equivalent to a Houston-Dallas flight, all of the other six members of my party were ahead of me in line. I watched the Forrester family hand in their boarding passes to the attendant, and then saw Diana laughing and the attendant marking something on their passes. Melinda and Jenna handed in theirs and the attendant called me up to check in with them, so I went ahead of Pamm. Then Pamm checked in. We walked out of the terminal and boarded a bus that would take us to our plane. Diana, Pat, and Andrew were showing us their boarding passes. They had all been moved from row 15 in economy class to row 6 in first class. We all checked our passes and found that everyone had been moved to first class. Everyone except me. I was in row 29, near the very back of the plane. Ok, that was the seat I had purchased, so I had no reason for complaint. We had no explanation of why the rest of my party was moved.
When we reached our cruising altitude, I saw way up there in first class how the flight attendants were bringing out table cloths for the privileged people up there. I wondered what they were being served. Then she closed the curtains that separated the common people from the others and I could see nothing.
I later found out that they were served a preflight orange juice in a real glass, given a copy of the Sunday paper, brought a steak and mushroom dinner with silver ware, and a warm, wet napkin after dinner. I, on the other hand, was given a plastic cup with one of the usual in-flight selections, and a plastic dish with a macaroni salad in it for a “snack.” I thought they had neglected to give me any utensils, when I discovered that you had to peel back a piece of paper on the top of the plastic container to reveal a three inch plastic fork. But that was ok. That was the seat I had purchased. I had no claim on first class just because everyone else I was traveling with was there and the other seats up there were empty. I was only a little jealous.
Near the end of the flight the blonde attendant from first class came walking down the aisle toward the back of the plane. She was carrying something wrapped in beige linen napkins. She stopped at my seat and asked if I were Mr. Creech. I admitted it. She apologized that I had not been able to fly with my party. She offered me what she had in her arms as a peace offering. I removed the napkins to reveal two bottles of red wine. Just what every Baptist pastor needs. I thanked her, told her it was really unnecessary. Really. She apologized further and returned to the rarified air of first class.
The large white South African man sitting next to me had already demonstrated in flight that he was no tee-totaler, so I gave him the wine. I explained that my family did not drink and I would not be able to use it. He gratefully accepted and asked if it were for religious reasons that I did not drink. I told him that that was sort of true. I did not think it was inherently wrong, but that it would be wrong for us. He grunted as if he understood, and stuffed the bottles into his bag.
The reason given for the change of seating was that they needed to “balance” the plane. I am told by my fellow travelers, and I do believe it, that they did petition the attendant to move me up to be with them, since there were more vacant seats. But I suppose I would have unbalanced that fragile 737 had I been moved from row 29 with my macaroni salad and plastic fork. I did notice that once the two bottles of wine had been brought to the back, the plane did seem to lose some of its stability.