“Oh, don’t worry! The 6 o’clock ferry sank about a month ago.” She said it so matter-of-factly, so calmly like it was some common, everyday occurrence. I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly, and I was hoping there was a joking tone in her Irish accent. “Pardon me? It sank?!?” “Oh yes, it’s in the bottom of the harbor. There’ll be another one along at 3 AM.” There was no twinkle in her eye. She was for real. This was no way to start my 6-week backpacking trip through Europe.
It was 6:10 PM, and my train was late to the port because a “bridge was out.” Now I had to find something to do until the 3:00 AM boat to Dublin, Ireland arrived at Holyhead, Wales. My Spring Break from Oxford University was not off to a great start. There was no place to sit at the port, so I started walking through the town as it grew colder and darker outside. I had never felt more homesick in my life. Then I saw it. A neon “Open” sign on a small restaurant. I now had a warm place to sit and something to eat. I struck up a conversation, and it turns out the waiter liked bluegrass music. As “Sweet Home, Alabama” came on the jukebox, people started to sing along. Even though I was more than 6,000 miles from Atlanta, I was right at home.
There’s a saying in Southeast Asia, from street vendors to philosophers to t-shirts: “Same Same but Different.” If you’ve ever traveled outside of your culture, you know how unsettling it can be at times. But it just takes finding something familiar for you to realize that, even though we are all different, we are still the same in many ways. It’s possible for Georgians to find “Southern Hospitality” in New Hampshire, or barbecue in Greece, or folks who play the “fiddle” in Russia. Everyone in the world puts their spin on the human experience, but if we learn to look beyond the surface, we can find all kinds of unexpected points of connection.
The Gospel is no different. The same story has taken root across many different soils in this world, and each time it blooms into something beautiful, different every time, but still the same. Take the Gospels in the Bible, for instance. They all tell the same story, but they go about it in different ways. In Mark you find a sense of urgency and even secrecy, embracing the “hiddenness of divine mystery,” allowing for candid honesty “to acknowledge the reality of suffering, the difficulty of discipleship, and the not yet” part of expectation (Hays page 96, Reading Backwards). In Matthew you find how Jesus fulfills and transforms Old Testament teachings as he embodies “‘God with us,’ the living presence of God who is to be worshiped as the holder of all authority” (Hays 98). Luke “emphasizes promise and fulfillment” as he sets the stage for the story of Israel’s redemption (Hays 99). Mark starts in the wilderness, and Matthew and Luke start at Jesus’ birth, but John goes all the way back to the beginning. John takes all of the symbols of Israel’s worship (the Temple, the good shepherd, the sacrificial lamb, water, lights, etc.) and shows how they were all signifiers of Jesus (Hays 101).
Each of these variations of the same story spoke to different audiences. Each of us encounters the divine in a unique way.
Can the Christ in you learn to see the Christ in your neighbor? It’s there. It’s the same. But different. The same forest is made up of thousands of different organisms. So it is with faith. So has Christ come for all. So may we live into this truth.