If you’re not familiar with The Frog-King, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.
If Jesus had been a frog and the Church a beautiful princess who gets to live with a handsome prince despite physically abusing him, wanting nothing to do with him, and lying to him, then The Frog-King is a story of Christ and His bride, the Church.
In this story we’re introduced to a beautiful princess whose face astonished even the sun when it shone on her, the kind of girl who turns heads when she walks by in the mall, but come to find out, when you actually get to know her, is as hideous as can be. At the end of the story she gets into a carriage with the Frog-King to live with him in his kingdom. Which immediately begs the question, why would he want to be with her after the way she treated him? Because she’s the Church and he’s Christ. If Christ had entered fairyland this is how we might expect the Gospel to read. The Gospel according to Grimm.
Human beauty is said to be found in the embodiment of a person (see Roger Scruton’s, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction for a quick look at the subject). The princess is the embodiment of the Church, the beautiful bride of Christ. God’s holy Church as He has formed her is indeed beautiful, yet in the dark forest of this fallen world, sin veils her beauty and disfigures her from the inside. Like the princess we who were beautifully made in the image of God, the picture of perfection, dropped the ball and have been behaving poorly in sin ever since. We put our interests before the interests of others. We’re fixed on what brings us pleasure. Like the princess we say whatever we have to in order to get what we want. We break promises and flee those in need, leaving them to live in darkness. Like the princess we despise those in our lives who don’t measure up to our criteria and only interact with them begrudgingly.
Having dropped her golden ball, the king’s daughter laments, weeping like a daughter of Israel (2 Sam. 1:24). It’s in the midst of her despair that we’re introduced to the frog. Fitting. It’s in the midst of our despair that we meet Jesus in his humility, the Word made flesh who came to rescue us from what ails us–sin. In the same way the frog emerges from the waters of the fountain in the forest in order to come to the princess’s rescue, his word preceding the revelation of his physical presence. He comes with his thick, ugly head, disgusting in the eyes of the princess, having “no form or majesty that [she] should look at him, and no beauty that [she] should desire him.” (Is. 53:2) He seeks her love and friendly companionship, he insists on it even, wanting to “sit by thee at thy little table, and eat off thy little golden plate, and drink out of thy little cup, and sleep in thy little bed.” She offers to give him whatever he wants, her clothes, pearls and jewels, even her golden crown, but he’s not interested in anything less than her love, just like Jesus, who said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37). The frog isn’t interested in provisions nor crowns, resisting, as it were, satanic temptations (Matthew 4:1-11).
But why does he refer to the princess’ things as little? To a frog they would be huge! Right? Ah, but to God, the infinite, who wants to step into the finite, who wants to live a human life eating, drinking, and sleeping such furnishings would be little. Christ lived a little, or rather, a humble life. The frog wants a life with the princess, a life that will benefit her as we see at the end of the story, and he’s willing to put in the work to get it, from retrieving her ball in the dark depths of the well to physical abuse when the terribly angry princess throws him against a wall with all her might to silence him. The life of Jesus in fairyland. God wanted to live with His people in order to help us, to save us, to bring us to live with Him. And He was willing to put in the work to redeem us. Willing to retrieve our sins in the depths of the waters of baptism–to take them all on himself, to sink into the darkness of death, to bring up that which had fallen, to suffer physical abuse and death when we threw him against the cross with murderous anger in our hearts, using all our might to crucify him in order to silence the Word of God, in order to say with the princess, “Now, thou wilt be quiet, odious frog.”
If when we read this fairy tale we fail to see the Christian truth of Baptism in all the fountain and water language, in the “old water-splasher” who swam up like Jesus who came up out of the waters of the Jordan river (Mark 1:10) to restore us to the life we lived before our carelessness under the trees in Eden, if we fail to see the truth of Communion in the frog’s desire to be more than just on a chair at the table, but who actually “wanted to be on the table” to “eat together” with his bride to be, like Christ who is the very meal served to us when we kneel at the Lord’s Table in the Eucharist, if we don’t see these truths in the words of this tale, then we’ll certainly fail to see the intentionality and willingness of Christ to suffer the cross for our sake in the frog who by “her father’s will” became the princess’s “dear companion and husband.”
How, after everything the princess did to the poor frog, could he say that “no one could have delivered him from the well but herself”? How is it that she treats him with such disdain yet he says she “delivered him from the well”?
Because she did. It’s not that she saved him, as we’re quick to think. No. She delivered him. She delivered him from the waters of the well to the painful surface of the wall. The Church, in all of our sin, delivered Jesus from the waters of Baptism to the wood of the cross. It was his mission all along to suffer the agony we inflicted upon Him. Jesus knew it. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). He knew it was necessary that He had to suffer the cross in order to undo evil. The frog says the same thing when he croaks the very words that prompted the princess to unleash her wickedness upon him, “lift me up or I will tell thy father.” It had to be so.
It’s the lifting up that kills Christ and delivers the fruit of the cross into our mouths in the distribution of Communion. It’s the lifting up of the frog that flings him against the wall and it’s the lifting up of the frog that puts him on the table. It’s the lifting up of the frog (the humiliation of Jesus) that reveals the glory of the father, for “when he fell down he was no frog but a Kings’ son with beautiful kind eyes.” It’s the lifting up of the frog, of Christ, that enables the princess, the Church, to be brought into His kingdom when He comes for her.
And as everything is set to end happily ever after the Christian reader’s mind — my mind anyway — begins to see an eschatological depiction of Christ’s return, an end “full of joy because of this deliverance.” No more pain and suffering, only the springing of bands from the hearts of the faithful. The “grief and sadness” of the cross of Christ when our Lord was, in the words of the Brothers Grimm, “a frog and imprisoned in the well” is replaced with the freedom and happiness of our Prince as He takes us to live with Him in His Kingdom forever.
Rev. Tyrel Bramwell is pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Murray UT. Grail Quest Books will be publishing the first book in his fantasy series, The Gift & The Defender, later this year. This series is being reposted with Rev. Bramwell’s permission. You can follow the latest writings in this weekly series at his website.