Sermon for January 14th, 2018
4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Faith & Film VI: Ferdinand
Three Minute Film Synopsis
Ferdinand is a movie based on the classic 1936 children's story written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. The main character is Ferdinand, a young bull who would much rather sit and smell the flowers than fight and butt heads like all the other bulls.
In the film, Ferdinand escapes from "Casa Del Toro" the ranch that breeds bulls for prizefighting. He finds a new home with a young girl, Nina, and her father, who raise him like part of their family and watch him grow into an enormous, gigantic, but gentle bull.
Every year, Ferdinand's favorite event is the "festival of flowers" in the nearby village. This year, however, when he sneaks into the festival, he has the misfortune of sitting on a bumble bee, which stings him and causes him to fly into a wild rampage, quite contrary to his usual meek and mild nature. Ferdinand unintentionally terrorizes the village, destroying a china shop among other things, and he is eventually captured, tied up, and carted away by the local police.
At this point, Ferdinand is returned to his first home, the "Casa Del Toro" where he is reunited with his childhood acquaintances, plus a few new ones.
Clearly, that last bull (Angus) is a good Presbyterian. Of course, so is the brown and red one (Guapo), played by actor and real-life Presbyterian, Peyton Manning.
When the country's most famous bull fighter, El Primero, shows up to select the best bull for his final fight, all the other bulls go head to head vying for the honor of being chosen. Ferdinand refuses to fight, but is ultimately chosen anyhow, due to his obvious size and strength. Two of his fellow bulls, having been passed over by the bullfighter, are sent to the "chop house" where they will likely be slaughtered. A common refrain of the bulls in the film is "You're either a fighter, or you're meat."
Ferdinand resolves to escape again from Casa Del Toro rather than be taken to the bullfight. He rescues his friends from the chophouse, and after a wild and crazy chase through the streets of madrid, Ferdinand manages to get all of the bulls on a train to the country where Nina and her father live. But he himself is captured in the process, and is taken to the arena where he must finally face El Primero--and his own convictions about fighting--in front of thousands of spectators.
Home Is Where You're Happy
One of the most powerful themes in Ferdinand is the concept of home--which is not just the place where you live, but the place where you are loved and accepted for who you are.
In this idealized vision of home, there are echoes of the children of Israel and God's promise to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey, a promised land. We're also reminded of the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father who welcomes his son with love and open arms, without any preconditions. And of course, we are reminded of our heavenly home, where our Lord goes to prepare a place for us.
Non-Violence vs. Calling
It's tempting to look at Ferdinand's adamant refusal to fight, and to read into the story a message of non-violence. That would certainly resonate with Jesus' advice to turn the other cheek, or that the one who lives by the sword dies by the sword. But as easy as that interpretation would be, I'm not sure that's really the message the film is advocating. Ferdinand is not a fighter. But never once does he criticize or condescend to those who are.
There's a key point at which Fernando is trying to persuade another bull, Valiente, to come with him in his escape from Casa Del Toro. Valiente indignantly demands "Why? So I can sniff flowers and hang around with goats?" Ferdinand patiently replies, "No, that's my thing. You'll find yours."
You'll find your thing. In Christian theology we call that "thing" your calling. The sum of the unique gifts and abilities God has given you, along with the purpose God calls you to fulfill in the world. When we are true to what God calls us to be, we are not limited by the roles and restrictions the world places upon us.
Despised by the World
Of course, when you truly follow God's calling, when you try to break out of social fences, the world and the people around you don't always like that. You might be labeled as a weirdo, an outcast, a reject. Or maybe a Shtinky Bull.
In John 15:18, Jesus tells his disciples that "if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." And in 1st Corinthians 1:28, we read that God "chose the lowly and despised things of the world."
So does Ferdinand. Throughout the movie, he rescues lowly bunny rabbits, helps those who are helpless, saves the enemies who despise him, and refuses to let anyone be left behind. Even some dirty thieves...
The Sacrificial Bull
Of course, all this should give us a clue as to Ferdinand's true identity, in a biblical sense. He is our very first "Christ type" of the year.
This is entirely fitting, since in Old Testament law (Exodus, Deuteronomy, Leviticus), God instructs the people to sacrifice a bull without any blemish or defect in order to atone for their sin. In the New Testament, it is Jesus whose sacrifice of his blameless life on the cross becomes the atonement for our sin.
As a child, Jesus escapes from Israel and King Herod into the land of Egypt, but then comes back to save his people as an adult. As a calf, Ferdinand escapes from Casa Del Toro, but then returns to save his fellow bulls. He transforms the lives of his "disciples" and preaches to them an optimistic gospel of a "better place" not unlike Jesus' message of God's kingdom.
At the climax of the film, Ferdinand is led into the bullfighting arena, which bears a strong resemblance to the ancient Colliseum, the symbol of Roman authority and power. We are reminded of Jesus climbing the hill to Calvary, the Via Dolorosa, or way of suffering.
In the arena, Ferdinand is poked and prodded by the matadors, just as Jesus was whipped and beaten by the Roman soldiers.
Ferdinand becomes entangled in the matador's red cloth, which reminds us of the robe Jesus wore at the crucifixion. There is an almost comical reversal, in which the matador draws two swords and holds them over his head like horns (of a bull, or devil's horns!) and lunges at Ferdinand wearing the red cloth. Ferdinand is the matador, and the matador is the one now looking like a wild animal. We remember Jesus saying that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
One of the swords pierces Ferdinand's side, just as Jesus' side is pierced by a spear. For a brief moment, Ferdinand is enraged, and lifts the matador off of his feet with his horns. In this moment, we realize Ferdinand's massive size and power. So does the matador. We all know who is truly in control, and who would win.
And yet, in this very moment, Ferdinand looks down to see a single flower, tossed into the arena, that he had trampled upon in his momentary rage. The flower brings him back to his peaceful home, to the tree on the hill and the flowers he loves. He remembers himself, his identity, and his calling. He sets the matador down.
And as the matador draws a sword and points it directly at Ferdinand's head...Ferdinand calmly, but defiantly sits down. He refuses to fight, willing to lay down his life for the sake of his convictions and his calling.
I won't completely give away the ending for those who have not seen the movie, but I will say that, like our Christian story...it is a happy ending. Hopefully by now, you see the parallels.
I hope by now you also heed the message: Find your God-given thing. Follow your God-given path, and don't let the world beat you down or stand in your way.
Give help to the helpless, hope to the hopeless, love to the unloveable.
Always be willing to lay it all down for the ones God has placed in your path.
And don't forget to smell the flowers along the way.