I was preaching at a great church in Tokyo, Japan, on Romans 5 and attempting to illustrate and define the Greek word for suffering or tribulation. My interpreter was a good one but when I tried to define the word he wasn’t getting it. Suffering or tribulation is defined as to pressure, to crowd, to rub. As I tried to expand the definition I used the phrase, “rubbing the cat the wrong way”. He drew a complete blank and could not interpret the phrase. Suddenly I remembered my morning experience. So I used the following story.
This morning I was in southern Japan. The missionary took me to the Bullet Train depot so I could travel to Tokyo. We were early and he had to leave so he informed me that I would need to stand near the track, behind the line and wait for the next train. When the doors opened I was to board, wait for three stops and then exit. There another missionary would be waiting for me. He made sure I understood because he didn’t want me stranded some place in Japan. So I stood with my suitcase and waited in a huge but completely empty train station. Soon a lone Japanese man walked into the station and decided that I had a good spot so he came and stood right next to me. And I mean right next to me, touching my shoulder. I thought this behavior was strange, considering how empty the station was at that moment. But then another man approached and decided that yes, we had the best spot in the empty station, so he came and stood next to me, touching my other shoulder. I was so perplexed with this physical invasion of my “space” that I thought fine, you guys can have the space! So I took a step backwards whereupon they immediately closed rank, touching each other with me behind them. Now people started to flood the terminal and it seemed that we had indeed chosen the best spot in the entire station. One after another Japanese came to stand right next me. I had the feeling I was a Japanese magnet. Everyone felt the need to stand close to me. So again I gave way, moving a step backward and having that space immediately filled in with several Japanese. This happened again and again and again. With two minutes until the train arrived it seemed that a floodgate opened somewhere and thousands of Japanese descended into the area, and most wanted to stand right next to me, touching, pushing and jockeying for position.
Suddenly I heard the train’s whistle. The train was coming and as I assessed my situation I found that a crowd of 50 to 75 diminutive Japanese stood between me and my door that I had to board! What was I to do? As the train approached and began to stop I had an inspirational thought. I was a foot taller than everyone else in the station, and they had all seen me, so I decided to make my presence known. I grabbed my suitcase, stood tall, and just as the door started to open I shouted in English, “Hallelujah!” Every Japanese in the station turned to look at me and I started running towards the train. Like a hot knife through butter, the crowds parted and I ran straight into the train.
As I finished this illustration of what it means to an American to feel crowded and pressured the church erupted in spontaneous applause. They related, fully catching the concept of suffering through being crowded or pressured.