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.
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?