After five hellish days in the Gulf of Mexico, the Carnival cruise ship that suffered the catastrophic effects of an engine fire finally limped its way to port in Mobile, Ala.
Most of the once-stranded wayfarers made their way into the arms of their loved ones; others were taken to the hospital for care for a range of issues, such as broken bones and dehydration.
After following this story for several days, one can imagine at least two responses to the plight of these unfortunate vacationers: heartfelt compassion or, on a bit more insensitive note, utter entertainment.
The majority of the news stories covering the cruise have focused their attention upon the dramatic conditions, which have been quite awful to bear.
But there is an underlying thread, and even Shakespeare himself could not have dreamed as dark a comedy as this. Don’t let anyone catch you laughing, but don’t miss the dramatic irony of this event either.
Nine days ago some of the richest people in the world, by most standards, set off on a luxury cruise line with hopes of escaping from the stress of their everyday lives.
They were just looking for a good time, a chance to fill themselves to their hearts’ content on food and merriment.
Instead, they found themselves in the well of a cavernous ship, in total darkness, with unbearable heat, urine-soaked floors and human feces dripping down the walls.
Wealthy vacationers carried their mattresses to the top deck of the ship, made makeshift tents out of sheets and were forced to wait for hours in food lines where the end result was often something as delectable as a cucumber-and-onion sandwich.
There were reports of hoarding and complaints against the hoarders, as people at the front of the food line took so much that there was hardly anything left for those at the end of the line.
Some had too much, others had too little, and tempers started to flare.
Now, you had better turn down the edges of that smile before anyone catches you laughing at these poor souls, but you better catch the irony in this event as well.
The folks that were on that cruise are the folks who have found themselves at the front of the food line their entire lives.
They have taken so much, and held so much of it to themselves, that there has not been enough left for those at the end of the line.
Suddenly, these vacationers found themselves hungry, sleeping in tents and trudging through the muck of human excrement.
In short, they found themselves stranded at sea in a sort of hell that looked remarkably similar to the everyday lives of citizens of the Third World.
But when they entered into that world for a few days, with an end on the horizon, did they recognize the reality that their existence in their everyday world may indirectly force people to call that “hellish world” their everyday world?
A world in which some have too much and others have too little is not the world that God dreamed up.
As Christians, we have been called to inhabit the world in a way that is worthy of God’s dreams.
This means that as Christians we are called to celebrate a new kind of carnival, or better yet, a new kind of kingdom, where out of Christian love we hold all goods in common with our brothers and sisters and do not keep them to ourselves.
In this new kind of kingdom, the hellish conditions that those vacationers were fortunate enough to escape could be escaped by all of those who call those hellish conditions home.
Living with the desire to see an end to those conditions for all could start right now.
Carnival gave each of the voyagers $500, in addition to a voucher for a free cruise as a recompense for all of their grievances.
Will they collectively decide to bring their money together to be shared and given to those who have too little, or will they assume their place, once again at the front of the line?
Despite the story of the Carnival cruise debacle ending on a generally happy note for all of the characters concerned, the darker and more profound issues raised cannot be fully resolved or ignored.
But before the corners of our mouths begin to turn up into a smile, let us take a good long look at ourselves.
Where are we positioned in this line, and what are we doing about it?
Cole Chandler is the minister of youth and missions at Dayspring Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. He is currently pursuing a master’s of divinity degree at George W. Truett Theological Seminary.