Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lambert the Sheepish Lion & the Incarnation of Christ

Lambert the Sheepish Lion was held in such high regard when it was released, that the Disney film was nominated for an Oscar; why would it be considered a high spot of all the great films of 1952? Two reasons, at least: first, the United States was still slowly realizing the superpower it had become nearly overnight at the end of World War II, just like Lambert "snapping" and realizing that he was a lion there to defend the defenseless. The theme of one going from being "backwards" or of poor quality, to suddenly holding super-star status was typical of many 1950s (Breakfast At Tiffany's, Annie Get Your Gun). Viewing the United States as a lion suddenly emerging would have deeply resonated on the unconscious political scene at the time as a demonstration of what had happened and why the United States did the right thing in joining the war.
As compelling--and even complete--as this historical understanding seems, there is also another reason for the idea of a "sheepish lion" to have become so beloved: Lambert embodies the dual nature of Jesus Christ, as both the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. (There was another film made this same year, in which a great fighter tried to cover up who he really was and, like Lambert, it required a snap that made him realize he couldn't hide from who he has: John Wayne in John Ford's The Quiet Man).
The opening lines indicate that it's not just "Once upon a time," but exactly a spring night, and what happens during a spring night? Jesus Christ is resurrected from the dead and becomes the defender of the Children of God. The night is the time when the soul experiences its greatest trials, and in Biblical times, that was the "fullness of time" when all things had been especially prepared for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah.
The flock of Israel.
When the stork crashes into the trees, the trees indicate the Suffering of the Cross and how that "crashes" with our common sense; why would a king come to suffer for his people? Why would a king suffer at all? Why would God suffer for his people? But it also re-enforces the idea that the Suffering of the Cross and the Incarnation are the specific power of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, because the stork, bearing babies (i.e., new life), is a symbol for the Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and Giver of Life.
Why do all the little lambs not choose the Mrs. Sheep for their mother? Her bell is more than a method of the audience readily identifying her; she is Mary, and Anna, the prophetess in the Temple, and Saint Anne, all those in Israel who longed for the deliverance by the Messiah and prayed and kept the Law of Moses so God would grant their prayer. That's why none of the new-born lambs choose her, those lambs are of the world, not the spirit, and her bell is a symbol of prayers (I had hoped to do bells during Christmas, but wasn't able to get to it so for now, I am afraid, you will have to trust me; but songs such as Silver Bells and the ringing of the bells in general, are invoking the power of prayer because of the sweet music they make to God).
When all the little lambs have been taken in by other sheep, Mrs. Sheep cries not only because she wasn't chosen, but because the Messiah still had not come. In Biblical times, virginity by a woman was to be mourned because it meant that she would not be the mother of the Messiah; Mrs. Sheep is not only sad about this, but because it means they will have to wait even longer.
Mr. Stork's comical bungling isn't funny at all: the Children of Israel were expecting a lamb who would be a lion in his heart, not a lion who would be a lamb, and that's an important distinction, because (like many of us still today) we would rather be a lamb with all the power in the world than to be a lion who chooses not to use that power. In political terms for Israel, they would not be delivered from their political enemies (the Romans) by fighting them like lions--as they were in the Old Days under God the Father and King David--but they would be delivered from their spiritual enemies, the demons, by the one who could subjugate the demons, God the Son.
Yes, lions are found in South Africa, not really in Israel, but there are references to lions, especially in the Psalms, when "young lions hunger and go for want" of food. Those young lions are the fallen angels, the demons who revolted against God. Like God they are immortal, but being created by God, they are younger than God, hence, they are "young," but they have an unending appetite for souls. Jesus, as the Lion of Judah, praises God and is thus able to overcome the young lions, because He is their natural superior in the physical and the spiritual world.
Lambert choosing Mrs. Sheep is then an obvious choice because Lambert ringing her bell means that God has answered her prayers: the Messiah has come. Unlike the Chief Priests and Scribes who want God and the Messiah to fit their image of what he would do and bring to Israel, Mrs. Sheep is wedded to God Himself, and is willing to accept what God sends to fulfill his purpose.
Lambert being with the little lambs and "not fitting in" offers an interesting commentary on what the hidden years of Christ's childhood might have been like for him growing up, as God and the Messiah, but also "hidden" in the form of a human. The rejection of Lambert reveals the constant rejection which Christ experienced even as a young boy growing up. When Mrs. Sheep licks his hair, it forms something of a crown, reminding Lambert of his great calling that he will have to answer to save her, and those making fun of him and rejecting him. We have heard the Scripture, "The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone supporting all the rest" and Disney's Lambert the Sheepish Lion provides us with an intimate view of the intimate pain Jesus willing experienced to be that "rejected stone" (because Satan offers us the stones that are pleasing to our eyes that we want to accept but are ultimately deadly to us).
Lambert being turned into a toy for his "brother lambs" to play with lets us know the way the Chief Priests of the Temple and the Scribes took his teachings, his words of wisdom, and turned them into objects of scorn (for example, in the Joyful Mystery of the Finding in the Temple, when Jesus is found talking/teaching the priests and they don't recognize him to be the Messiah, neither do the little lambs in the cartoon, in spite of the great size of Lambert).
It's important to remember, watching the cartoon, that all the complaints the lambs have against him, not enough wool for one bag, can't butt his head or bleat, are all worldly measures, and we ourselves go against the same "standards of measurement" when we are in the world and rejected.
Lambert being "yellow, through and through," is a sign--not of his cowardice--rather, of his great dignity (yellow is the color of gold, and gold is associated with kings, so his royal dignity is what is being invoked, even though he wants to fit in with those "less than himself," the little lambs).
"Drink from the pool by the way side" is what Lambert and his mother do in this shot, taking in the wisdom (the life giving water) that others choose not to do, so they are sustained to fulfill what God himself has decreed for them. The wisdom of the world would teach that Lambert doesn't fit in and that, as such, he should be driven out, but God knows (as we shall see with Moses in the next post on The Ten Commandments, that the one who doesn't fit in is the one who will become the pattern by which all others will be measured).
The "sheepish grin" of Lambert indicates his humility and meekness in being able to control his temper and not lash out at that who have hurt him
When the lambs are asleep, it symbolically means the sleep of spiritual sluggishness, they are not tending to their souls; Lambert is the first to awaken because he is tending to his soul, that's the reason he was born, to lead the children of God out of darkness that covers them now, in this moment. Lambert's fear when he sees the wolf is reminding us of Christ's own fear when he was called to undergo his passion, and how he didn't want to but he did t for love of God and love of us, regardless of the terror in his soul at doing so.
The moon rises in cycles, so the moon being full symbolically stands for the "fullness  of time" (since the last cycle had past) and the wolf standing on the rock is a sign of the hardness of heart of the lambs below (not tending to their souls or cultivating their virtue); Lambert is a rock, but a rock in his faith and righteousness, and that's why he can defeat the wolf who lives by his appetites.
The wolf stealing off Mrs. Sheep graphically illustrates for us the way Satan attacks the Church, the mystical spiritual body which God created, but was then born into as a man and now must defend from his mortal enemy. The prayers of Mrs. Sheep crying out clearly mimic the prayers of the Church today, still under so much attack, praying for the Second Coming and a new Deliverance from the enemies of our souls and the guardian of our soul, the Church.
What finally snaps inside Lambert is not suddenly finding his bravery, nor fear for himself, rather, the pleas of his beloved Church, his faithful, because the time to be the Lamb of God has passed, and the time for the Lion of Judah to enter has come. Only after the Lion has defeated its enemy the wolf, can the Lion lay beside the lamb and the two natures of Christ be reconciled in our little human minds. The fall of the wolf reminds us of the fall of Satan and how we can follow that way, or rejoice in the power of the Lion that we first come to know through the power of the Lamb.