The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea—Isaiah 11:6-9
This past Sunday I talked about Little Red Riding Hood and her famous encounter with the Big Bad Wolf. I’ve used this story in the past and inevitably someone always mentions to me how unfair it is that wolves, that is to say real life wolves, are so often vilified. This always makes me think about all the wolves and ogres and giants and all manner of fairy tale and real life villains. When I use the story of Red, it is to make a connection between the basic story line (hero with purpose or mission goes on a journey, gets into trouble with something evil, needs saving, is saved and evil is destroyed) and the story line of our own faith journeys in the “real world.”
In the stories of our lives, sometimes we are saved by someone else, and sometimes we save ourselves, but in the ultimate sense of saving, real saving, God is the woodsman who comes and saves us when we are beyond all other forms of help.
Actually, I have always wanted to do a rewrite of the story, as is common these days, and make the grandmother the hero who destroys the evil from the inside out by making the wolf sick to his stomach. Maybe in that story he even becomes a vegetarian!
The analogy I made last week was about Saul’s journey to becoming Paul and his need of being saved due to his straying so far off the path that he was killing followers of Jesus. However, I think that Paul was most assuredly a wolf to many people of his day. And a Big Bad Wolf at that! When he first comes on the scene at the beginning of the ninth chapter of Acts, breathing threats and murder against the followers of Jesus, the words are chilling and his condoning of violent punishment of Stephen just a few verses after he is introduced could make any of us recoil at the thought that this man might one day be an ally to the followers of Jesus.
So Saul, as he was when we first meet him in scripture, surely was a wolf stalking the flock of the Good Shepherd. A true villain. But he did not remain so, thanks to the intervention of God, and he became Paul, the founder of many churches and writer of many letters that form the faith till today and beyond.
The difference between a myth, fable, or fairy tale, and a parable is that a myth attempts to describe or explain the world as it is, why things are the way they are, but a parable describes how the world can be. A myth tells why things are the way they are or perhaps give a cautionary instruction on how to best live safely in this world. A parable, on the other hand, is a story that reveals what is possible. Think of any of Jesus’ parables. They do not describe the way the world is so much as they show us what the kingdom of heaven is like. In other words, they give us a glimpse of what God would have the world to be.
Take the parable of the prodigal son as an example. If the story were designed to give caution or advice on how to behave properly, the ending would certainly have been different, wouldn’t it? If the goal was to instruct young men to not be disrespectful of their parents, wasteful of their inheritance, and to be leery of big cities and being away from family, much like Red’s story teaches one to be wary of the woods, deceptive people and the dangers of not obeying your mother, then the good son would have been the one to receive the great banquet at the end! The errant son would have had to live in the stables or be the good son’s servant because after all, the prodigal son is the villain of the story. He is the lone wolf who takes advantage of his father, wastes his inheritance, and abandons all who love him. If it were a Grimms Fairytale, he might have to dance in red hot iron shoes or end his life as a blind beggar.
But that isn’t how it ends. In fact, none of that sort of thing happens at all. The prodigal gets the banquet and the other son, that is to say the GOOD son, is indignant because of what he perceives as a slight to him. This is not a fairy tale.
The truth is that in the end, as much as we want to believe ourselves to be good sons, little girls in red hoods picking flowers, and innocent senior citizens whose vulnerability is preyed upon by THEM, just as often, and perhaps more often than we ever want to admit, we are Big Bad Wolves. We are simul iustus et peccator–simultaneously saint and sinner–all at once child and wolf. And I believe God cares about the wolves, too. In a sense, that’s what many of Jesus’ parables tell us. God cares about those whom we don’t, whether it’s the small and forgotten, the unwanted women washing his feet, or the bullies and centurions and giants and ogres and wolves among us. Actually, God cares about all of us, when we are any and all of these things. So, perhaps God isn’t like the woodsman who slayed the wolf as much as he is the parent welcoming home the beloved and lost lone wolf child, not to a fairy tale world but to a world made new.
“Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”—St Paul, formerly Saul the Wolf, in his first letter to the church at Corinth.