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Paul’s Little Pigs?

The lectionary is taking us into a fun place right now with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. YOU (pl) are God’s temple, his church. That’s a HUGE statement. It’s such a big expectation.

"Three Little Pigs". Some rights reserved (CC BY 2.0) by "Trish". Sourced from FlickrBased on some discussion blogs, I saw someone compare this passage to the story of the Three Little Pigs… which got me thinking.

There’s 3 pigs, and mom sends them off in their own direction – separated. And they build their homes – then sit in them, alone. The wolf (requisite bad guy) comes up to the first house of straw (easiest to make, least sturdy) and threatens to huff and puff, which gets piglet racing to his/her sibling’s place.

Anyway – now we have 2 pigs, in the wooden house, equally scared – and equally lonely; they’re not engaging, not talking, just co-existing. Wolfy repeats his request, pigs deny entry, wolf threatens destruction, pigs take off again.

Now the third house – bricks and mortar – took longer to build, but is expected to withstand outside threats. Pigs 1&2 look like dinner to go to the wolf, who follows them there. Slight difference here though: all three pigs have re-united, and spent time together – sharing comfort, a meal, their faith. And so when the wolf makes his threat, they see him as being full of hot air and they don’t run away. True to form, the wolf gives it his all and: no catastrophe.

Undeterred, the Big Bad Wolf tries another way in, by coming down the chimney – now depending on how family-friendly your version of the story is, he either shoots back out once his tail hits the fire, or he’s caught in a pot, boiled, and becomes the Pigs’ Sunday Roast.  Either way, pigs are still safe in the house, threat removed, happily ever after, close storybook.

Here’s the danger Paul warns of in Corinthians though: the HOUSE is not what kept the pigs safe. The community is what did that. The pigs had to overcome any childish squabbles they’d had that had separated them in the first place, and come together. Then – and only then – did they have the faith (opposite of fear) when the threat appeared. Only in their togetherness did they find the trust to remain together, inside the house, when the wolf came.

Paul warns that the spiritually immature would find trust in the earthly things – in the Pig analogy, the bricks and mortar. Admittedly, that’s helpful – we do need walls and ceilings – but the spiritually mature recognize that the community is the true strength, the strong foundation to support whatever comes. God’s temple is the people, not the building.

And therein we have the moral of the Pig’s Tale: we need a strong foundation to truly know safety. Therein we have the moral of Paul’s letter: we need the strong foundational community to truly know the security of belonging to Christ. WE are the church, the gathering, the temple, the strength. We are the people, among and through whom the spirit moves and dwells and inspires.

So – Paul challenges us to continue the story. We are not so immature to presume that we too can just close a back cover and live happily ever after. What else happened with those pigs? Well, we know that eventually they would have needed to leave the house – they’d have been bored, they’d have run out of food, eventually the bricks themselves would crumble around them. Sure, it would have been risky – there could be more wolves out there – but there could also be great rewards – there could be new pigs looking for a community to join, there could be new life waiting to welcome them. But they had to trust enough to carry the strength of community with them through the door to the rest of the world. The church is like that too – we can stay cooped up as we are, but we too will get stagnant, bored, starved, and the buildings will age and crumble. The church, however, the people – we have opportunity to go out and seek new life beyond our doors – maybe inviting them in, maybe connecting with them in other places. But movement has to happen. And when we – as church – have the strength and faith to go together, we know that we carry the safety of the whole church with us.

It’s a fun analogy, one that encourages discernment in to action and call into strong, faithful community. It’s one that challenges us to think outside the box when we consider how we hear the story. It’s one that teaches us a moral, a lesson: both in Paul’s account to the church at Corinth (and the church today!), and in the classic fairy tale of those anthropomorphic swine.

Which leads to my question: are there other fairy tales that express the same lesson we’re meant to learn from the Bible? Can we connect these lessons in ways that are meaningful to our young (and young-at-heart) congregations? Or is this too slippery a slope to consider at all?

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I’m a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I’m passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee.

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10 Responses to Paul’s Little Pigs?

  1. I smiled when I saw this week’s headline, Laura Marie, because I remembered Kyle Norman’s reflection on the same tale from last fall! Like minds? 🙂

    • EGADS I hadn’t even realised! WIll go back and reflect on his work – after worship, of course!! 🙂

      • Hee Hee

        Great minds do think alike! Don’t worry LauraMarie, there have been plenty times where I have had an idea for an article only to find that you had written about it first . . .and better than I could have.

        • hehe indeed!
          I re-read your article – and I think it goes in a different direction – same basic underlay but good comparisons. So I’m feeling less of an unwitting plagiarist now!

          So… what other fairy tales do we know and love from our childhoods that can relate to the scriptures? Have we used other analogies like this? (I had a parishioner jokingly ask for the Three Bears for this Sunday… 🙂

          • Huh, theologizing fairy tales – That would be an interesting experiment wouldn’t it. I have only really reflected on the three little pigs – but the options are endless. Could the boy who cries wolf be a lesson about our overlooking of prophetic ministry in favour of that which is controlled and comfortable?

            And don’t worry about plagiarizing – if you ever do all you need to do is copy the apology from Shia LeBeuff and all will be well. 🙂

  2. This analogy makes sense . We do tend to trust in our physical plants and forget that it is the whole commmunity of believers that makes things happen. And makes things safer for all persons within the church.

    • Thanks. I visited a church once that was so caught up in the inside that they never noticed the outside – people or physical building. An example: for a “community outreach” supper they put up all the posters on the inside of the building, away from any doors or windows!

  3. Hooray for using fairy tales in teaching bible theology. Making the 3 pigs about the blessing of community is admirable. However I think this particular story needs an even more radical revision or added twist to serve Christian theology well.
    At one of its simplest symbolic levels, it stands for the superiority of “better” technology (bricks as the production of industrialized urban civilization) over the primitive building methods of tribal-straw or small-village-wood. In our alienation from nature (the breath/spirit? of the wolf) we are protected and mature as humanity, by hard-work, engineering and yes even community co-operation.
    (For a psychological reading of the 3 pigs (maturity = choosing a work-ethic over pleasure): ) (For human work and production as the answer to the fall (a la Hegel and Marx):
    Both of these perspectives seem to occur at the tower Babel, where utopia (safety, togetherness, “making a name” (celebrity-fame as per Kyle’s post) and reaching the heavens (spiritual maturity?) were all to be achieved through the very community co-operation that God deliberately hindered. Was this because thier premise was security founded on human initiative, and civilization founded on engineering, rather than the foundational sufficiency of Christ that Paul seems to be on about?
    In support of your lesson, I suggest identifying the house that protected as the one constructed of “LIVING stones” (1 Peter 2:5). In an earthquake or wind it is not structural rigidity that saves but rather flexibility (give and take) in the bonds between the members of the household.

  4. Thanks Dell, I appreciate the psychological and philosophical perspectives. And there are tons more ways this article could be expanded – we could easily turn it into a book instead of a blog!
    Have you done this type of thinking on any other fairy tales?

  5. Sounds good … let me know when you have time to collaborate on such a book?! My own reading in archetypical/cathartic or social/psychological ways has been mostly with Bible stories. But there is much potential in fairy tales, which are popular in the first place, I think, because they are code for things we (humans) want to say, even if we have forgotten why it is important to say them. Hard to miss parallels of the heroine who is unaware or ostracized from of her lineage/heritage in stories such as Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Rapunzel seems ripe with Christological symbolism which is also latent in re-popularized hero myths such as Luke Skywalker, Neo, and Harry Potter.

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