He was about twenty-five, wearing an expensive looking sport coat, his hair cut short and slicked back.
"Hey, sir, how can I help you." I said.
He flashed a lidded, important gaze briefly in my direction before looking up at the menu board.
"Sure. Tall latte." I said, calling out the drink. "Three dollars and fifteen cents, please."
I held out my hand, but he merely nodded without seeing me and flicked a twenty on the far side of the counter. I looked at the bill for a second before reaching across to retrieve it. I could feel my jaw muscles twitching, but I forced a smile onto my face as I gave him the change. He took the bills but brushed my hand aside with the coins, jerking his chin in the direction of the tip jar.
"I don't need the change."
Thirty minutes later I found myself in the washroom, yellow rubber gloves already pulled up to my wrist, wash bucket in hand. Toilet paper lay strewn over the floor and had somehow made its way into the sink. The toilet itself was unflushed, and the entire package of seat covers had been ripped out of the wall, scattered beside the overflowing garbage bin. I bit my tongue, pulled the spray bottle out of the bucket, and started cleaning.
When I'd finished, I took my time heading to the back. There were going to be days like this, I reminded myself.
"I love people. I love people."
I repeated the mantra in my head, but stopped when I came to one of the tables. Coffee cups, paper forks, paper bags and an entire dissembled newspaper had been left there for one of the staff to clean up. I looked at the garbage can, just two strides from the table, and wearily bent down to clean the mess. When I'd finished cleaning the table, I realized that I was no longer angry or even frustrated. Just tired. As if a light had gone out in my world, though for the moment, I could not articulate why.
* * *
As Christians, we often speak grandly of Jesus. We speak of knowing the Creator as a friend, of our relationship with Him, of the glory and victory of Christ. We speak in the manner of proud association, as if we are the Vicar's friend, the King's confidant, the Champion's champion. We tell of what has been done, of the revelation of God to us, of the power and authourity we have in the name of Jesus. We assert our faith in quiet superiority or in grandiose schemes or in the numbing smiles as ones who know better. We are the friends of the popular kid, the ones who can go to the party or get into the party and know it. We promote our values on bumper stickers and TV shows and through political propaganda. We think about the Christian utopia, the Christian society, or just wish every one else was a Christian. Often times it is sincere, most times it is unthinking, but through it all we know we are okay because OUR friend is Jesus. The Son of God. The Messiah. The Victorious One.
The Coolest Kid on the Block.
We do this because it fits our own desire to feel special, and our own struggles to feel that way. We may believe that God loves us, but most of the time the thought remains abstract, and so we settle for having community, the same way we did in high school when we told ourselves that OUR group was the coolest group, whatever group we fit into. The Geeks were losers. The Jocks would eventually be nobodies. The Brown Nosers would find the world much tougher. The Rich Kids were boring and dramatic and would end up with three wives.
In our minds, Jesus busts through all these groups, and His Love for me not only changes me, but also my social position.
Jesus makes me important. Right?
* * *
Nazareth lies at the southern end of the Galilee Mountains. It sprawls between, and spills over, five rounded hills -- Nebi Sa’in, Romane, Kufze, Rajme and Mount Sheikh, the highest at over 500 meters -- forming a horseshoe with the city at their center. People have lived in Nazareth, originally called 'Nazer', for a long time, and the human remains unearthed there are among the oldest ever found. Today Nazareth is an extremely popular site for tourists, but it wasn't always the case.
In the time of Jesus, Nazareth was a tiny, poor Jewish village, with two or three clans living in about thirty five homes spread over 2.5 hectares. When we read Phillip's words regarding Nazareth in the New Testament ("Can anything good come out of Nazareth?") the remarkable thing is not what he says, but that he even recognized where Nazareth was located. To say that Jesus had humble origins does not capture -- especially in the West -- his life and where he came from. Jesus didn't just come from a poor village, it was a place that most Jews or Romans had never heard of.
This was no carpenter in the city of stars (Los Angeles), like Harrison Ford before his break. This was a poor man, watching and learning to build chairs and tables at his father's side, living on a small sheet of land with his family in a hilly and isolated region in Southern Israel.
This great King, with whom we so eagerly trumpet our association, lived and worked -- even when his ministry began to get attention from the crowds -- as a poor rabbi who lived on the kindness of strangers and friends.
The power of the Incarnation is not in the Majesty and Awesomeness of the All Powerful Creator, but in the poverty and humility with which God made himself known. And it is this humility that I so often don't know what to do with... the one thing above all else that i can not seem to grasp.
There are so many days I want to yell and complain about the way people treat me. Worse are the days like this week, when I feel that spark, that belief in people, dwindling and flickering. It is here that the humility of Jesus speaks to me, and the next day I am able to rise again and light the torch once more.
* * *
We are all special. I believe we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that God's love is the only thing capable of sustaining humanity. But the path way to God lies not through the Castles of Celebration but through the Forest of Humility. If we are unwilling or unable to walk along the same road Jesus did, if we are too quick to "get to the good part" or the "happy ending", then we will have missed the point of the Incarnation. The result: a life forever trapped in the cycle of comparison and the "why me" syndrome.
The only way to avoid being the victim is to understand that we are all victims... and that we are all guilty.
When we figure that out, we no longer need the popular kid to make us cool, and we can start building the Kingdom of God as Jesus showed us, in humility and love.