It used to frustrate me. I’d explain some aspect of the Gospel at a concert in the clearest way I knew with a culturally appropriate story followed by a succinct explanation of the point I was trying to make. Sometimes it might even draw a round of applause from the crowd. After the show I’d be chatting with an audience member and – assuming the person even remembered what I’d said – it would be abundantly clear that my new friend had not even vaguely understood what it was that I had said. I would tell the exact same story and explanation again and hope that maybe this time it might stick.
These days I am not so frustrated. I have finally worked out that although the message of Jesus seems simple to me and makes perfect sense in my framework of understanding the universe, it is not to people who have spent their entire lives living within a different framework. The categories are just different.
Let’s talk about alcohol for a minute. It is generally accepted that Jesus’ first miracle was performed at a wedding in Cana where he turned water into wine. Now, although I know plenty of Muslims who do drink, alcohol is strictly forbidden in Islam. So let me retell that miracle story to help you get a sense of how that story might come across to an observant Muslim...
"Jesus and his disciples were helping out at the Cana High School graduation prom. James and John Thunderson were keeping rowdy kids in hand. Thomas was checking tickets for their authenticity while Judas Iscariot was selling (watered-down) cokes at the bar to raise funds for new school computers. Jesus and Peter were in the kitchen, where Peter was expressing his concerns that there was nowhere near enough cake and sandwiches to feed all the kids.
Just then Mary, Jesus’ mother (who had been busy consoling teenage girls in the wash room) came in. “Jesus, the condom vending machines in the girls’ toilets have run out” she said. Jesus replied, “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the high school janitor, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood 6 packets of uninflated party balloons..."
And of course, if you’ve ever read John 2, you can guess how the story might finish.
To your average evangelical Christian, the thought of Jesus condoning pre-marital teenage sex by turning balloons into condoms seems pretty hard to swallow. It’s probably about as hard as believing that a true prophet of Islam would turn water into an alcoholic beverage.
You can hardly blame someone from assuming that the book that the original story came from is corrupt... (which is what most Muslims believe about the New Testament)
In case it's not obvious, I am not trying to say what Jesus would or wouldn't do with a packet of party balloons with this ridiculous little story. My point is only that communicating cross-culturally (or cross-religionally) is TRICKY. What is said is not always what is understood. More on that in future blogs. And hopefully using art (in this case, a fictional story) has helped you see how art can shock/surprise us into seeing things we might never have thought of before.