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Vol. 80 - No. 4
April 2009

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

Easter Makes Us Real: A Meditation on Pinocchio

One of my core convictions is that traces of the Gospel message can be seen almost everywhere. The Gospel message of God’s love in Christ is like living water–and, as every homeowner knows, water finds its way into all kinds of places. So we can expect the Gospel to find its way into all kinds of places, too. One of those places, I believe, is children’s stories. The old fairy tales, for instance, seem to contain echoes of the Gospel. Isn’t Cinderella, basically the story of Christ and His church–the poor servant girl raised into royalty and riches by the love of the handsome prince? Blessed Martin Luther would, I think, have agreed with my assessment of children’s literature–he once said that the best book after the Bible is Aesop’s Fables.

Viewing the recent DVD release of Disney’s Pinocchio, I saw some things I had never noticed before in this great film (which I regard as the finest of the Disney movies). The story has some distinct Christian themes. I don’t know if this was deliberate on Walt Disney’s part. He had a strong Sunday school background, but generally avoided portraying religion in his work–note the absence of a church in Disneyland’s Main Street. But the Gospel, as I said before, sneaks into stories and books and films even when their authors aren’t consciously aware.

Pinocchio is basically about transformation. A fairy gives life to a wooden marionette. The puppet seeks to complete the transformation and become a "real boy". But his becoming real is continually short-circuited by his tendency to go astray. He is given a conscience–Jiminy Cricket–but inevitably goes against conscience. This leads ultimately to a negative transformation. He is sent to a place called Pleasure Island with other unruly boys–where the boys are transformed into donkeys. (Few films sequences are as terrifying as this one). Pinocchio is able to escape before undergoing complete donkification–but he does end up with long ears. Now he is further from being a real boy than ever before! But when he finds that his creator Gepetto has been swallowed by a whale, he rushes to rescue him. During the rescue, Pinocchio seemingly dies–but then reawakens as a real boy! The transformation is complete.

I find several connections with the Christian message here:

(1) God has given us a conscience, but we often disobey it. Pinocchio learned the truth of St. Paul’s words in Scripture: "I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing... In my inner being, I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body..." For Paul, this ultimately led to the cry: "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7).

(Very strange piece of movie trivia: The actor who voiced Pinocchio, Dickie Jones, appeared a year or two later in Brigham Young. In that film, there is a scene in which Dickie Jones is roasting and eating crickets. Pinocchio...eating crickets! Revenge for all those times Jiminy Cricket bugged him? This is either a very strange coincidence or a grim joke on the part of Brigham Young’s filmmakers. Perhaps the point is that we sinners would love to roast and eat those pesky consciences that torment us!)

(2) Sin robs us of our genuine humanity. The misbehaving boys at Pleasure Island are turned into donkeys. And by our sin, we human beings have forfeited our true humanity. We were made to love God, to live in personal relationship with Him–that is being truly human. When sin takes that relationship away, we become less than fully human.

(3) Transformation can only be found in dying and rising again. Here is where Pinocchio comes closest to the Gospel message. The puppet becomes a "real boy", gains his humanity, when he dies and rises again. And you and I become "real" when we are united to the death and resurrection of Christ. This happens in Holy Baptism. "All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death" (Romans 6:3). The old, sinful me died in the waters of baptism–and a new me rose into victorious life! In the film, Pinocchio the puppet "dies" by drowning, and Pinocchio the "real boy" comes to life–and Luther in the Small Catechism notes that a similar transformation happens to us: "Baptizing with water signifies...that the old Adam in us, with all sins and evil lusts, is to be drowned and die by daily contrition and repentance, that the new man might come forth and rise daily and live before God...". Amazingly, in the film this involves a whale...which recalls Christ’s words about His resurrection: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40). Whether Disney meant this as a Biblical reference or whether it was accidental, it’s an amazing connection! And a reminder that it is Christ’s death and resurrection that transforms us and makes us "real" human beings.

God loves you and so do I!

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