by the Rev. Sarah Buteux
Proper 8, Year B
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Glennon Doyle’s “Untamed,” is many things: a bestseller, a powerful meditation on the roots of our discontent, an unsparing look at the ways women in particular are conditioned to silence our deepest longings, and a book about what it takes to set a soul free.
Within its pages, Glennon talks about racism, sex, body issues, addiction, love, faith, divorce, and redemption. It is a powerful book. But the chapter that I remember most, the one that haunts me to this day, the entry I can’t get out of my mind… is the one about cream cheese.
Has anyone else read, “Untamed?” Do you remember the chapter about cream cheese? It’s so good and it’s so short that I’m going to read it all to you right now:
One afternoon (recounts Glennon) I opened my inbox and saw an email with the subject line “Mom, You’re Up!”
The email was meant to inform me that it was my turn to provide breakfast for my kid’s school athletic team after their early-morning practice. Each morning, a parent delivers a full spread of bagels, cream cheese, juices, and bananas so that after they finish, they can dine.
The night before I was to deliver the goods, I received another email from the mother of one of the athletes. She had a concern…She was worried that the other parents had not been providing sufficient cream cheese choices for the children.
For example: last Friday there had been only two options, and several of the children hadn’t liked either one of them and had been forced to eat their bagels cream cheese-less. She had a solution: “There’s a bagel store close to the school that makes five different flavors of cream cheese. Might you be able to provide all of them?”
All of them. Five flavors of cream cheese.
Five flavors of cream cheese is not how you make a child feel loved (says Glennon).
Five flavors of cream cheese is how you make a child an… (And here she chooses a word I probably shouldn’t say in church).
And yet (she admits, and this is why I love her) I am a cream cheese parent. All of my friends are cream cheese parents. Cream cheese parenting is the result of following our memo: Successful parenting is giving your children the best of everything. We are cream cheese parents because we haven’t stopped to ask: Does having the best of everything make the best people?
What if we revised our memo, (asks Glennon)? What if we decided that successful parenting includes working to make sure that all kids have enough, not just that the particular kids assigned to us have everything? What if we used our love less like a laser, burning holes into the children assigned to us, and more like the sun, making sure all kids are warm (P 179-180)?
I’m not going to say anymore about why that chapter haunts me. I’m just going to let it haunt you now. But I will tell you that it came to mind – again! – as I was reading this story in Mark.
Now I can’t say whether or not Jairus was a cream cheese parent, but he was a man of privilege. Mark tells us that he was one of the leaders of the synagogue, from which we can infer that he was a good man, a generous man, most likely a wealthy man, and a well-respected member of his community.
I’m sure that, in general, Jairus was happy to provide for his child’s every need, right down to ensuring that his baby girl could enjoy her favorite flavor of anything her little heart desired.
So imagine the nightmare he finds himself in when it turns out that his daughter is dying and there is nothing he can do about it. In this moment when she needs him most, he finds himself without the means to help her. For all his power and pull, he has not been able to find anyone with the skill to save his little girl.
And so having already tried everything, he is now willing to try anything. Jairus leaves his daughter’s bedside, braves the crowd down by the docks, and throws himself down at the feet of an itinerant preacher who is rumored to be holy. He begs Jesus, begs him, to come and lay hands on his little girl that she might be made well.
It is an effecting scene and one of great reversal. People would have been deeply moved by this man’s love for his daughter, a love so fierce that he was willing to set aside his dignity and rank and humble himself before a nobody like Jesus. And Jesus is moved as well.
Without so much as a word, he agrees to help. He starts off immediately with Jairus toward the house, a crowd of people in their wake, everyone invested now in the project of helping this good, humble, God-fearing man save his precious child.
When all of a sudden this other woman gets in the way.
Of course, she didn’t mean to. It was nothing personal. But she too had heard about Jesus, and she too was willing to take a chance. Having no one to help her, she has decided to help herself. And having no one to speak to, a rather heartbreaking detail, she talks to herself. She psychs herself up. “If I but touch his clothes,” specifically the tassels that hung from Jesus’ prayer shawl, “I will be made well,” she says to herself.
And she was right. So right, that to the utter dismay of Jairus and everyone in the crowd, Jesus comes to an abrupt halt and says:
“Who touched my clothes?”
His disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say,
‘Who touched me?’”
But Jesus, rather than hurry on to the dying child, keeps looking around and around until finally this woman comes skulking out of the crowd toward him. She grovels at his feet and admits to what she has just done.
According to Mark she “came in fear and trembling, fell down before Jesus, and told him the whole truth;” the truth that for 12 long years she has been bleeding continuously, a condition that rendered her ritually impure. She knew it was wrong to touch Jesus, but she had done it anyway in the hope that she might be healed.
It is an awful moment. Everyone in the crowd would have stood there, hushed, fully expecting Jesus to cast this woman off with pity or frustration, if not outright fury. I’m sure Jairus wanted to strangle her and I imagine there were others in the crowd who would not have been far behind him.
But rather than shame her, or worse, Jesus lifts her to her feet and to the amazement of all gathered says:
“Daughter … daughter, your faith has made you well.”
Now I know how our hearts catch upon those words about her faith making her well, and all the questions such a statement stirs up in us about why God heals some people and not others. And I wish I had an answer to such questions, but if you were here last week you know that I don’t.
What I can tell you is that when Jesus calls this woman “daughter,” he is healing a wound far greater than her hemorrhage. When he calls her, “daughter,” Jesus is healing hearts – softening them and opening them up – by letting everyone in that crowd, everyone who hears this story, everyone from Jairus back then to us right now, know that there is no one in all of creation living outside the bounds of God’s love.
When he called her daughter, he claimed her as his own, as family.
Jesus could have called her any number of things…lady, woman, madam – he probably could have called her by her very own name….but Jesus chose to call her “daughter” as a visceral reminder that this poor, lonely, long-suffering woman was once somebody’s little girl too.
He called her daughter as a reminder that every last one of us started out small and vulnerable, innocent and, dare I say …worthy? Worthy of care, worthy of love, worthy of being heard and seen, healed and made whole.
Jesus had been on his way to the bedside of a little girl of privilege, the daughter of a religious man, an innocent, someone we all would regard as deserving of such healing. But Jesus stopped along the way to pronounce that this other woman was deserving as well, because just like that little girl, this woman too was a child of God.
He didn’t stop to heal her, for she had already healed herself. He stopped to heal us and our mistaken notion that some people are more worthy than others of God’s love and care.
It’s a shockingly beautiful, incredibly holy moment, that is immediately broken by the news that Jairus’ daughter has died. It would seem that this holy interruption has cost the girl her life. It would seem that Jesus, whether intentionally or not – has preferenced the one over the other. The woman has been restored to the fullness of life. The little girl has died.
And maybe, in some twisted way, it was only fair. After all, this woman has suffered for 12 long years, while that other little girl had everything she could ask for the entirety of her 12 years on earth. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Sometimes things just need to brought into balance, right?
Only, that’s not the truth at the heart of this story. Thankfully, Jesus is not an either/or kind of savior. Jesus did not come to save one part of the world at the expense of another.
Have you seen that meme that says, “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It’s not pie.” Well, the same goes for the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not a zero sum game where someone must lose in order that others might gain. A slice for you does not mean less pie for me. No, my friends. Jesus came to heal the whole world that God loves so much, and he proves it now.
“Jairus,” he says, taking the poor distraught father by his shoulders, “Jairus, Do not fear, only believe.” Then he dismisses the crowd. With only Peter, James, and John in tow, they continue on their way. When they arrive at the house Jesus tells all the mourners who have already assembled to get out.
“The child is not dead but sleeping,” he says.
And they laugh…”
Until Jesus doesn’t. One look at him and within moments they are all gone. Jesus would not have it any other way. In contrast to the first healing, which was very public, this miracle will be private. Jesus doesn’t want or need a grand spectacle because the truth is, people already cared for Jairus and his family. Thanks to his standing in the community, they already have plenty of friends, connections, and support. People loved Jairus.
In healing his daughter, Jesus is simply affirming that for all their privilege, Jesus does too.
What this story teaches us is that God loves the cream cheese parents and the parents with nothing to spare. God loves you no matter what you do for a living or what you have done with your life.
God’s love is never the question because God’s love for every last one of us is never in question. Nothing can separate you from the love of God. The question is whether or not we will love one another the way God loves us, love one another the way the healthiest families love one another. Love one another as fiercely as Jairus loved his little girl.
So I’d like to further revise Glennon’s memo to not just include parents but all people. Maybe being a successful person, at least in the eyes of God, is not about making sure you and yours have the best of everything, but that all of the people around you have enough of what they truly need.
If we can do that then our faith will save us, because our faith will make room for every last one of God’s children to be seen and fed, loved and made well. Amen