The Pig and The Calf

February 14th Sr. Wantabee had the privilege of preaching on the Fox, Herod who wanted to kill Jesus, and the Hen, God who wanted to gather his Jerusalem chicks under his wings, but they would not. The sly old leader gave Jesus over to be crucified and the mother hen gave her life for her chicks, Christ was crucified. The tables are turned as the silly hen becomes the hero and the beautiful fox becomes the villain. March 14th Sr. Wantabee will venture into the pulpit again but this time to ponder the pig and the calf. Will the tables be turned again?

Perhaps you know the story. It is really very common. A father has two children. One dreams of the wonderfulness of life “out there.” “Out there” might be getting to drive the family car without parents, getting a job and apartment, finding the right boyfriend, marriage, a pay raise. It is something that seems achievable if only the obstacles of now were removed. This child demands his inheritance and ventures forth to conquer the world.

The other sibling dreams of “right here” becoming the answer. Prince charming will come by; hard work will bring good tax returns, whatever is going on will transform him into the person he dreams he will become. This child follows the “system” and doesn’t “push the envelope.”  The “out there” child demands his inheritance and heads off to find his future. The “right here” child stays within the system and works dutifully.

Unfortunately, the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence and “out there” proves to be challenging for friendship, employment and life. Our young hero must fall back to his skills that he learned on the farm and starts to work for a farmer. Now, however, he is not the son of the owner and future heir but just a hired hand. Even what he knows how to do is not getting him where he wants to go. He is spending his days feeding pigs for the slaughter and they are slaughtering him. The dream has become a dread.

“One day,” our young hero, “comes to himself.” One day he faces reality. The job is not getting him where he wants to go. The friends are only a cover up for the loneliness he feels inside. The pigs he feeds eat better than he. The dream of happiness has disappeared with the clouds. In this moment of truth, he redefines himself. He will return to his father, not as “son,” but as “servant.” The “pigs” have forced him to be honest with himself about his plans and identity. They have forced him to come to a point of integrity. He will not look for happiness “out there” but return as servant. Perhaps service will restore relationship.
Meanwhile back on the farm, the other brother has worked hard and fattened a calf. Perhaps as he fed this animal he dreamed of the day it would be slaughtered in appreciation for all his hard work. Perhaps he admired how the muscles fattened and the animal filled out. Perhaps he patted himself on the back for his hard work and difficult labor. That calf was a symbol of all his rights and all the things he deserved for staying “right here.”

But as often happens in stories, and in life, the tables are turned. His brother returns and while he is still a long ways away his father orders the slaughtering of his prize calf, a party to be prepared, and in an unsightly display of legs, hoists his skirts up and runs to welcome the “demander.” The tables are turned. The demander, because of the pig, returns home humbled, with a new identity and attitude and is royally welcomed. The fattened calf becomes a window into the heart of the brother who felt he deserved it and had been robbed of just praise.

Both the pig and the calf were fattened for slaughter. Both the pig and the calf were tended. Both the pig and the calf became the window into the heart of the caretaker. The pig, the despised animal, became the teacher of humility and integrity. The fattened calf, the prized animal, revealed pride and bitter jealousy.

As we have now reached the midpoint of Lent and our pondering of how humanity is reconciled with God, we are faced with the reality that it is the “pigs,” our failures, that draw us into reconciliation, not our “calves,” our rewards. The father loves both sons but it is the pig, not the fattened calf that brings the reconciliation.

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