I live on a fifth-generation family farm in Iowa, and it never ceases to amaze me how farm life offers a metaphorical window into the human experience.
In particular, I’ve been in awe over how the gospel comes to life when I walk around our land. It seems that Jesus is whispering a message in every field and every barn. He made a habit of doing that sort of thing during His earthly teaching ministry. Jesus, whose audience came from a highly agrarian culture, often drew lessons from the land. He spoke of vineyards, seeds, weeds, soil, fields, and farm animals, such as sheep and hens.
Two millennia later, I hear the whispers of a Divine Farmer in a place that feels both beautifully messy and unexpectedly sacred: the pig pen.
Picture the scene, as if you were standing next to me, by the barn, tucked between Iowa fields of corn and soybeans.
When baby pigs arrive on the farm, they show up in the most ridiculously charming way – chauffered inside an old school bus retrofitted for this purpose. The bus driver backs up to the barn, opens the rear fire exit of the bus, and whoosh! A pink streak of squealing swine streams straight into their new home.
And while I try to provide some assistance for my husband, I mostly just coo at those roly-poly piggies and attempt to pick them up for cuddle time and selfies. (Hi, I’m weird.)
Baby pigs really are the cutest. But do you want to know what’s less cute? Baby pigs that get sick.
A few weeks after the recent batch of pigs came to the farm, two of them became quite ill. My husband knew they were sick because every time he walked into the barn, they were laying around, refusing to eat or drink. So he put them in a sort of “sick bay,” an empty pen reserved especially for pigs recovering from illness. (I call it the Hogs-pital.) There, he nursed those little pigs back to health.
Many weeks later, I went into the barn with Scott, and the same two pigs were still in the Hogs-pital. I couldn’t understand why. The pigs had fully recovered. They were eating and drinking normally, just like all the pigs in the regular pens.
But Scott hadn’t put them back with the rest of the population.
I asked him about it, and here’s what he told me:
Those two pigs would get hassled and picked on by the pigs who didn’t get sick. (Yes, even pigs can be bullies.) Turns out, there’s a hierarchy and dominance built into the herd in which the most powerful are safest of all. Because of this, those two pigs would have to remain isolated for the rest of their lives, separated from community, to protect them from abuse.
Looking at those pigs, I thought of how it can feel that same way for a lot of us who have been shunned, disregarded, and set aside because of some struggle we’ve endured.
Maybe you’ve been set aside for an addiction, a personality quirk, a decision that others disagreed with. Maybe you’ve been disregarded for no other reason than a community structure that worked hard to protect the powerful. Or maybe you’ve been disregarded because of the chronic pain you carry or an illness that is your constant companion. You feel like a burden every time you try to re-enter places where you were once accepted with open arms, back when you seemed healthy and happy.
Maybe you know someone like that. Maybe that someone is you. And today, you are feeling on the outside of community.
I’ve felt that way — not only as a child, but as a grown woman.
But One Person who has never made me feel that way is the Divine Farmer. Jesus never waits for people to get pulled-together enough, healthy enough, cleaned-up enough before entering into relationship with them. Instead, the Bible reveals a Savior who went out of His way to hang out with outcasts, the sick, the marginalized, and the broken.
Jesus once said, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts” (Mark 2:17 GNT).
As someone who has felt the sting of rejection, I am soothed by a Savior who sits by my side, messy and unrespectable as my private “pen” might be.
If you are feeling discarded, unwelcome, and forgotten today, may you find that you belong with Jesus. He is with you, even in this.
And for the rest of us, those standing securely in a safe community, may we be the ones who open our arms. May we be the people who widen our circles.
And also, may we be the ones who stay keenly aware of the health of the communities in which we dwell. Do our communities invite people in, or shut people out? Do our communities embrace the so-called outcasts, or wait until they clean up? Do our communities protect power structures, or create safe places for vulnerable people? Where do we need to root out herd mentality?
We would all do well to welcome the vulnerable ones to our tables, not only because it’s what people of integrity do, but also because, one day, we might find ourselves looking around for someone who would do the same thing for us.