An interesting first occurred at the Super Bowl last week. No, it wasn’t the extremely misguided decision to pass the football instead of running it one yard, although seriously. No, it was a commercial from a company that made history. I’m probably about to make some men in my midst uncomfortable but you’ll be fine. For the first time in Super Bowl commercial history, a feminine care product was advertised. Ok, everyone cough and don’t make eye contact. The company Always spent about 3 million dollars of their precious advertising budget for a commercial that didn’t even directly show or talk about their product. Instead, they took head on the gender and the gender gap issue during the most consumer and arguably patriarchal television event of the year. Their premise was the idea behind the phrase “like a girl.” Now, this phrase is commonly used in a pejorative way such as “you run like a girl, you throw like a girl, you cry like a girl, you hit like a girl,” and it’s often directed at our young men.
They asked some grown young women to do some athletic activities that are normally associated with men, “like a girl.” They showed clips of women running kind of silly, throwing poorly, swinging a bat poorly and laughing at themselves. Then they asked some 9 and 10 year old girls to do these things “like a girl.” The difference was astounding. The young girls did these activities to the best of their ability, with a look of determination and grit on their faces and taking it very seriously that they were very good at these activities. All of who they were as a girl was a positive and life giving identity no matter what activity they were doing. Research shows that girls think that they can do and be whatever and whoever they dream until about age 13. At age 7 an equal number of boys and girls think that they can be president of the US. By age 14 only about 7% of girls think they could be president as compared to 50% of boys. Leadership ambition peaks for girls at age 8. Who we are as a female in our culture is tightly linked with what girls and women think we are capable of being and doing. Being who you are, your identity, and what you do are woven closely together.
The Always company has actually had this ad campaign on Youtube for about a year with the hashtag #likeagirl. The idea that women are enough in their own bodies and can do anything is an idea that the executives at Always thought was worth their time and energy. Is it completely altruistic? Of course not! They want to sell their product! But they purposely subverted the cultural meaning of “like a girl” and turned it into a national conversation. One of my preaching professors from Luther Seminary, Karoline Lewis, even started a hashtag #preachlikeagirl which I love! Who we are as women, means that we do everything like a girl and that is not only enough, but it’s good enough just who we are as God created us to be, in all aspects. Women, as well as men, should be freed from how culture and society thinks we should act.
At first glance, verses 29-31 of our Mark story might appear to smack of cultural norms around the roles of women in the time of Jesus. It’s still the Sabbath, and after casting out the demon and teaching in the synagogue, Jesus goes to the home of Andrew and Simon (along with the other two so-far called disciples James and John) to find Simon’s mother in law (completely identified only through her son in law Simon with no name of her own) in bed with a fever. Fevers were serious business and often deadly. More than that, it would have isolated her from anyone else out of fear of contamination. If you’ve ever had a high fever, you know that you are not yourself. You can’t do much of anything.
Jesus was at once, Mark writes, told about Simon’s MIL and Jesus didn’t even hesitate to go to her. No one else had thought or even tried to help her. For one thing it was still the Sabbath and so work was strictly prohibited plus the problem that she was unclean. But Jesus isn’t worried about the cultural rules or what people will think and only is concerned about this woman. Jesus takes her by her hand and lifts her up, the same word used in 16:6 for Jesus being raised, and the fever leaves her. She is free from what kept her from being all she could be. She is returned to community and made whole despite Jewish laws of Sabbath.
But then this woman actually does something that is not only bold but is a statement about who she is and what this day for her and us all, really means, she serves. Not just makes dinner or cleans up her own room, but the word here is the same as in 1: 13 when the angels waited on Jesus-she is a devoted servant and follower of Jesus, God incarnate. I read that she could be called the first deacon or true follower of Jesus. So this is a first in the gospel of Mark for someone to actively respond to Jesus. In her serving, she was a leader in how we should respond to Jesus who came to serve. This unnamed woman gets that Jesus came to serve, had served her and now she proclaims with all who she is the good news of Jesus’ presence in the world.
She doesn’t ask permission to work on the Sabbath but serves without a thought to the possible consequences for not following the rules because of who now she truly is freed from the fever, she is part of Jesus’ radical announcement that the kingdom of God is breaking into human lives and human rules. This day heralds a shift in how we live together as the people of God and how we live in the world. We quit worrying about rules, ourselves, what others might think of us and love and serve each other as Jesus first loves and serves us. Simon’s MIL, because of whom she knew she was as a person made whole through Jesus, was unafraid to be and act in response to being made a whole child of God, she was unafraid of what others might think of her blatant and bold dismissal of cultural norms, she didn’t worry about fitting into the system. All of who she was, was enough, she ignored the cultural restrictions and she responded like a girl, if you will.
The coming of Jesus and of the kingdom of God, proclaims that we are more than what the world tells us that we are: we are more than just male, female, sick, healthy, rich, poor, white, black, gay, straight, outspoken, meek, athletic, intellectual, leader or follower. Over and over again in the gospel of Mark and the other Gospels we read of story after story of Jesus proclaiming that in God’s kingdom, such distinctions don’t exist-the only identity that matters is that of child of God. With these casting out of demon and healing stories, we can be tricked by our own humanness into thinking that Jesus came to perform radical miracles that will do for us exactly what we want, when we want it, for our own purposes. But Mark is clear that is not it at all: Jesus came to dwell among us to reveal that in the kingdom of God, our human restrictions, cultural taboos and social boundaries are false, all are children of God and God desires to lift us up-to resurrect us- to our whole selves as made in God’s image, free from death and anything that separates us from God, for the sake of serving God and God’s whole world. Who we are, just being a whole child of God, informs our actions.
So, while the Always Company wants women and girls to do things “#likeagirl,” God calls us to be #likeachildofGod, whose whole life bears witness to God’s grace, love and forgiveness for all. #likeachildofGod who serves not just people in need but partners with another child of God in a full relationship, and so is served by them as well. #likeachildofGod who offers community, love and belonging to everyone, even if they make us uncomfortable, challenge our thinking and change us. #likeachildofGod who can rest in the trust that God is present always and that the promise is that God will take us by the hand, lift us to be with God forever and love us no matter what. Thanks be to God!
*This week let’s Tweet, FB and Instagram all of the ways that we are grateful to be freed in the love and mercy of Jesus to serve God and the world at #likeachildofGod Let’s see if we can get it to trend!