Three Little Pigs Re-Imagined

In the latest edition of the New Direction newsletter, Pathway, I referred to Jesus’ parable about the workers in the vineyard. Some of you may remember this story from Matthew 20 where Jesus describes a group of temp workers hired to work in the vineyard. The eager beavers get hired first thing in the morning for an agreed upon daily wage. The landowner returns to the market place at approximately three hour intervals to hire more workers for a total of five times. By the fifth time, it is late in the day and those hired are the slackers – the least desirable workers. They only have to work an hour or so… something hopefully manageable in their fairly likely hung-over or inebriated state. At the end of the day, Jesus says that the landowner gets ready to pay the workers and calls up those last hired first and gives them the equivalent of a full day’s wage. Each group successively comes up and get the same, full day’s wage. The ones who were hired first, as they watched the payments, began to anticipate a bonus for their efforts. After all, they were the responsible ones – early to the market place to get hired. They were the ones who’d produced the most. They had suffered the most – bearing the heat of the day. But when they finally get to the end of the line, the landowner hands them the same day’s wage as all the other workers before them. The responsible, sacrificing, suffering through the heat, workers are pissed. Despite having agreed to work for that wage, they feel the burn of resentment and entitlement. They grumble ….. and the landowner chides them reminding them of their agreement and suggesting that they ought not feel entitled to begrudge him the freedom of applying his generosity as he chooses. He doesn’t say a thing about the lifestyle of the late workers. He simply seems to relish in surprising them with an unexpected and lavish extension of grace.

It reminds me of another parable Jesus told where the younger son – who went away to spend his inheritance on frivolous living – comes home with his tail between his legs. He’s blown it – and he knows it. But …. he’s starving and miserable and figures that even being a servant in his father’s house will ensure better treatment and a better existence than his squandering has earned him. He goes home and the father is thrilled and immediately orders a huge celebration to be prepared. At the celebration, however, the older brother …. the responsible one, the one who’d sacrificed fun and frivolity to care for the father’s estate, the one who’d suffered long hours in the fields is pissed. He feels the burn of resentment and entitlement. He begrudges the generosity of the father to this slacker, good-for-nothing so-called son. The father doesn’t say a thing about the lifestyle of the younger son. He simply seems to relish in surprising him with an unexpected and lavish extension of grace.

In citing these parables, some might assume I am making a parallel between “good” Christians (and perhaps especially the good Christian same-sex attracted persons who don’t identify as gay and don’t pursue love and intimacy in same-sex relationships) and the early workers and older brother – and gay Christians (especially those who do pursue love and intimacy in same-sex relationships) with the late workers and younger son. Such an assumption, while perhaps understandable, would be inaccurate. Making such a parallel would simply perpetuate the same old polarity and “us vs. them” caricatures that I am committed to try to dismantle.

No I cite the parables because of the themes it draws out …. themes that I believe impact any who seek to follow Jesus and embrace their own and others’ humanity. I think these themes are love, sacrifice & suffering, and the reality of adversity. Rather than categorizing people into boxes of assumption, it is perhaps more helpful to consider the ways these themes work themselves out in our lives. I think every follower of Christ needs to grapple with how love, sacrifice and suffering will play a role in their lives. I think every Christian is called to a deep understanding of sacrifice as they walk in the way of Christ. I also think that suffering is the crucible through which many Christians grow the most. These can have healthy and vital places in the Christian journey. I have also seen, however, when paradigms of sacrifice or suffering become dominant the mutation they can cause in the simple, child-like journey of faith we are called to – that I would suggest is to be essentially and predominantly built on the foundation of love. Such mutation morphs into striving, shame and a dehumanizing of the self that is inconsistent with God’s intentions and grievous to him.

As I was pondering, I began to retell the story of the three little pigs in my head. I know kinda crazy. Maybe I was sleep-deprived or having some regression into childhood deficits ….. anyway …. bear with me. I trust you all remember the original story of the three little pigs who all build different houses, one of straw and one of wood and one of brick. The pigs then get assaulted by the big bad wolf who huffs and puffs and tries to blow down their houses.

Well in my reimagining of the story, I saw the three little Christians who were trying to build their own houses. One built his house out of sacrifice. It was strong and impenetrable. This little Christian took great care in building their house – making everything by hand, working hard to be able to purchase the strongest raw materials. In no time at all, the house had its basic structure and form completed. Work continued, however, as reinforcements and extra safety features were always being added. This little Christian worked very hard, long days except for the Sabbath when he intentionally laid down his tools and rested.