Ducks and Swans
Most of us have heard the phrase, “ugly duckling,” but most of us no longer know the story from which it comes. We may think it refers to a face only a mother could love, but The Ugly Duckling was a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale published in 1843. After a mother duck’s eggs hatch, there is one duckling unlike all the rest, who is verbally and physically abused because of his looks. He goes through a series of isolating and humiliating incidents until, when fully grown, throws himself into a flock of swans preferring death to further rejection. He’s amazed that he is fully accepted until he sees his reflection in the water and realizes he’s been a swan all along.
When Andersen was asked if he’d ever write his autobiography, he said it was already done. A tall, ugly boy with a big nose and feet, he was cruelly mocked and teased, but in addition to his musical and writing talents, there was evidence he was the illegitimate son of the king of Denmark. The swan was not just metaphor for inner beauty and talent, but also for royal blood.
Beyond ugly ducklings, there is Cinderella, The Frog Prince, and numberless stories on the same theme from ancient times to today. Luke Skywalker is secretly a Jedi knight. Neo in The Matrix is secretly “the one” who can wake humanity from slavery. Jesus is an ugly duckling too. A Cinderella born into abject poverty, raised in Nazareth—of which Nathaniel asks, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” He is unrecognized, despised, ultimately killed, but not before he finds his true identity, his royal blood and the power to wake humanity to the good news. What news?
That we’re all swans. The slipper fits. We’re knights, secret royalty.
That the journey Jesus took to truth is a journey we can all take. That when Jesus says “you will do the things you see me do,” he means that whenever we wish, we can take up the human task of realizing that though we don’t yet see it in ourselves, as children of our Father, the king, royal blood flows in us as well. That even in the admission of our powerlessness, this good news alone can wake us from the slavery of our fears.