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Again, this is what liberation theologians refer to as a preferential option. The word preferential means a preference or partiality and implies favor or privilege. The word option does not mean that the preference is optional, but rather implies a choice between multiple possibilities. In other words, a preferential option means a deliberate choice among many possibilities and the choice to prefer those whom the present system marginalizes or makes vulnerable to harm.
In this story, Jesus practices a preferential option for someone his society is excluding, and he deliberately chooses to prioritize her over someone his society shows great preference for. The fact that the male synagogue leader gets a name in this story while the woman remains nameless is a hint.
Consider the playground teeter-totter for a moment. When one side is lifted up higher than the other, placing the same equal force on both ends of the board would result in no change whatsoever. For the board to balance, one side must receive the upward force or pressure while the other side is left alone.
In the same way, in a hospital, more critical cases are prioritized over less critical ones, and not because some lives are more valuable than others but because some lives are in danger of greater threat. This is exactly the reality missed by those who respond to Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter.” It’s because all lives matter that Black lives matter. Black lives are under greater threat in our present system and therefore, Jesus followers especially should practice a preferential option for Black lives.
The practice of a preferential option is also at the heart of the reparations debate, which received media attention this spring around the anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre. Tulsa was not an isolated event. All throughout this country, systems and individuals who practice a preferential option for Whiteness have stolen generational wealth from Black communities. For equity to be reestablished and for distributive justice to be achieved, we must now practice a preferential option for those whose material wealth has been stolen.
In the game of Monopoly, you can’t give one player an advantage and then halfway through the game say preferential options are now unfair so no one gets any special treatment. That would leave the original preferential treatment in place. No, a preferential option must benefit those who’ve been disenfranchised until each person can experience an equitable chance in the game. Only then will both sides of the table be playing with the same rules.
Pride month is another example. The LGBTQ community has been shamed into hiding, denied basic human rights of employment, housing, and basic accommodations, and so during Pride month people can reject that shame and heterosexists’ attempts to label them as “less than.” Pride is not, as some Christians say, a rejection of humility. Pride for the LGBTQ community rejects being labelled as of less worth than others. Those who are falsely claiming that we should also have a “straight pride” month ignore the fact that we already have twelve months in a year when straight people are prioritized and told that they belong. As an LGBTQ friend of mine says, “LGBTQ Pride is the opposite of shame, not the opposite of humility.”
What this story doesn’t address is the way that Jairus’ daughter remains subsumed by him and his social location. A good question for us to wrestle with today is what is the right preferential option for Jairus’ daughter, the actual patient? Does she have to pay for the social status of her father? In the end, Jairus’ daughter also receives healing. In the end, both parties receive what they need. But to arrive there, Jesus chose a preferential option for a nameless woman forced to live on the outside of her community, over prioritizing the named leader that typically would have received the priority over others.
Who is the Jesus story calling you to practice a preferential option for this week?