Many of us grew up with the story of the Three Little Pigs who came across an untimely end when they encountered the Big Bad Wolf. The story was told from the perspective of, and with sympathy for, the pigs.
The original story portrays the wolf huffing and puffing and blowing down the straw and stick-made houses of the first two little pigs. The wolf was bad, and we didn’t like him by the end of the story. He deserved his comeuppance: In the original tale, the wolf dies trying to break into the third pig’s brick house.
But the story told from the perspective of the wolf, a retelling by children’s author Jon Scieszka, shows an entirely different reason for the wolf’s aggressive actions. The wolf was making a cake for his granny. And he ran out of sugar. So, he decided to go and ask his neighbours for a little bit of sugar, just like anyone might do in a friendly neighbourhood, right?
Problem is, Mr. Wolf had a bad cold. And he was sneezing all the time. And basically, that’s what leads to the straw and stick homes being blown down. He eats the dead pigs not to be wasteful of good food and it is in his nature to eat, after all.
In the revised story, the third pig inside the brick house insults the wolf’s granny. And the wolf doesn’t stand for any disrespect for his elder. So the wolf wants to give the pig a piece of his mind. But things don’t turn out so well for the wolf, as we know. We may still not side with Mr. Wolf completely, yet the revised version gives us a more sympathetic understanding for the wolf’s actions.
Taking an old story that everyone knows and re-telling it from a different perspective can lead to new insights and a deeper understanding of the truth.
In the Gospel story for today, the narrative Peter believes is the one the world talks about. Jesus announces first that he will suffer and die. And the world’s narrative about suffering and death is that these things are to be denied and avoided at all costs. We deny suffering because it leads to meaningless despair, anguish, sorrow and a helpless, endless demise into nothingness. That’s the world’s perspective.
Peter, at first, only sees it from the world’s perspective. No wonder he “rebukes” Jesus. The notion that the Messiah should suffer and die – who would stand for that?!
The world cannot initially grasp this notion of faith amidst the suffering, the hope born out of death to new life. We kind of easily, even unwittingly, remain stuck in the negativity of it all. And that can only lead to despair. And keep us stuck there.
I think Lent is about critically looking at the narratives we believe – believe about ourselves, God, and others. Seeing it from a different perspective might help dislodge some of our unhelpful assumptions. So, Lent is first about grieving the past. It is about, first, the suffering and death parts of what Jesus said. We cannot deny nor avoid it. So we must confront our pain, losses and suffering. We must feel it and grieve it.
This year, we are accustomed very much so to the feeling of Lent. After all, the entire year has felt like Lent, so today is just another blurs-day, another “ashy day.”
In the words of Diana Butler Bass, “The point is that for more than a year now, that’s pretty much all I’ve done — reflect, pray, and read, mostly alone, all the while worried that I might die, someone I love might die, or I’d unwittingly contribute (by my own carelessness) to someone else dying. Every time I put on a mask, I think of death and dying.”
In a year where over twenty thousand Canadians have died from COVID and millions of people around the world, the Lenten discipline of contemplating mortality seems like one more painful day. Every single day, these days it seems, is an exercise in mortality, as we see our dusty illusions of existence coming at us like a wicked lake-effect blizzard.
But Jesus also then says that, after the suffering and death, he will rise again to new life. That promise undergirds all our suffering and dying. Jesus introduces a different perspective, a new narrative for life: Death has not the final word. We can endure what we must endure because of the promise of transformation, renewal and new life, in Christ Jesus.
A couple who postponed indefinitely their wedding date from last summer because of the social restrictions reflected on how they felt about the uncertainty of it all. Before COVID they knew their love was going to be publicly professed in a wedding on a specific date. Today, they still don’t have a wedding date despite their ongoing commitment to set one when the time is right.
What remains constant nevertheless is their love for each other. The groom said that there is a certain degree of growing anticipation and joy with each passing day, not knowing when that date will be, yet confident only that it will happen someday.
Perhaps there is a hope we can feel with that couple. Grounded in a steadfast love that pre-exists any crisis we face, can we live each day in the hope that one day we will come out of the pandemic intact? New life emerges from the dust heap of Lent. We continue on in this hope, this blessed promise.
And that’s a perspective worth believing in.
 Jon Scieszka, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs (Toronto: Penguin/Scholastic, 1991)
 For the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B – Mark 8:31-38