Gospel of John: Rumpelstiltskin


The Miller’s Daughter

When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the story of the miller’s daughter.  

Her father was boasting about her to the king one day, and the king said, “Well, if she is all that, then she would make the perfect wife for my son, the crown prince!”

Imagine the miller beaming with pride and joy. At last! His humble beginnings would rise up on the wings of his beautiful and beloved daughter.

That part really spoke to me. I wanted to be the daughter who could bring her father up from sorrow and loss to new hope and fulfillment.

But alas, the miller had been exaggerating about how fabulous his daughter was. He said she could even spin straw into gold!

And that was my daddy, too. He was a real story teller, and he could hold a room rapt for hours with his tales of adventure, interspersed with brilliantly timed bon mots and quirky side stories.

“Oh yes?” said the king. “Well, I have got a whole barn full of straw, have her come over tonight, I will even provide the spindle. If she can get that barn load all spun into gold by the morning, I will marry her to my son.”

I am sure the miller was mentally scrambling for a way out of this challenge. My poppa was also a good escape artist. He was one of the best, better than Houdini, and far more resourceful. He got us out of many an otherwise ineluctable disaster. Yet, before he could respond, the king continued with the rest of his challenge.

“But if you are lying, I am going to put you both to death in the morning.”

Think about how the miller’s daughter must have felt that night, as her father told her about their dilemma. According to the story she did not even know how to spin, let alone turn straw into gold. How was she going to do it? How was she going to save her life, and the life of her father?

But there was no backing out of it. She could not let her father, beloved, larger-than-life in her eyes, magnificent, and so full of life, be exposed as a sham. There is such a wide berth between fabulist and fabricator, between storyteller and dissimilation.

There was nothing for it. With brave faces, they both went to the king’s court next day, and the king locked the miller’s daughter in his palace-sized barn full of straw from across his realm. In the middle of these great mountains of chaff was a spinning wheel, a little stool, and a new spindle.

By Ուոլտեր Քրեյն – Rumpelstiltskin from Household Stories at Project Gutenberg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3806822

There she wept, bitterly.

The only hint she might survive this crisis is the number of pages left in the story.

Save a World Full of Lives

I can see, in my mind’s eye, the disciples taut with apprehension, watching Jesus’ face as he spoke.

Was there any chance at all Jesus was using hyperbole, or simile, or some other device that would make his prophecy sound more dire than it really was?

How was God going to save the whole world, sunk as it was in sin so deep and dark that not even the disciples, who lived with Jesus night and day, could really understand the Lord’s teaching?

How were they to manage in a world that would largely hate them, where they would be opposed by the very religious rulers who claimed to be the keepers of God’s word, the watchguard of God’s ways, the tenders of the people’s souls and the counselors of their minds and hearts?

What were they to do without Jesus?

Rumpelstiltskin, the Power of a Name

In the midst of her utter collapse was the sudden appearance of a strange little man. He alone could provide the way out of her predicament, and he would! But, it would cost her. Dearly.

The rest of the story ends just as a fairy tale ought, for the miller’s daughter—thanks to Rumpelstiltskin—prevailed. She was able to provide a barnful of straw-spun-to-gold three nights running and did indeed marry the prince.

When her first child was born (the son the strange little man had predicted), she was able to outwit the trickster, keep her child, the gold, the prince, the palace, and her happiness for the rest of her life.

You might wonder how this could possibly relate to John chapter 16.

How in the world might Rumpelstiltskin be -at all- like the Paraclete?

The story as told to the Brothers Grimm is actually about a goblin, and there are a wide variety of versions. But to my little girl mind, knowing the secret of Rumpelstiltskin’s name meant having power, and calling on that power for good.

I had no one (but the Spirit) to guide me, as I read the Gospel of John alone, in my room, at nine year’s old. So to me, to call upon Jesus’ name meant having power for good. Here was God offering God’s very name as energy and might for saving the world, for loving people, for bringing goodness and hope and joy into the world, to maybe push away some of the grim suffering that seemed to be everywhere. The bitter tears of fear, loss, and despair.

The Holy Spirit

And as I had my books arrayed on my bed one night, I realized knowing Rumpelstiltskin’s name and knowing Jesus’ name meant something. And that crying out to God with disaster all around would bring the appearance of a strange—but this time good and loving—presence who alone could, and would, bring rescue.

Only, it was not me who would pay dearly. Jesus had already paid dearly. The Father had paid dearly, for the Father had already given up the firstborn Son. for me. And for the whole world.

That night so long ago, as Jesus walked with his beloved friends to the Garden of Gethsemane, he explained it all this way.

Because I have said these things to you all, grief, sorrow, and pain have filled your hearts to the full. But I am telling you the truth. It is better to you all that I would depart, for if I did not depart, the Advocate and Counselor would not come to you, but if I go, I will send that one [the Counselor/Advocate] to you.

Jesus to his disciples, John 16:6-7

It still makes sense to me today, as I think about how these stories converged in my mind so long ago.

Without Rumpelstiltskin, and the power of his name, the miller’s daughter would have died. She would never have married the king’s son, nor had her own beautiful son to raise up.

And without Jesus dying, without the Father giving up the Son, there would have been no sending of the Holy Spirit to empower Jesus’ followers as they brought rescue to the perishing world, to be risen up on the Last Day.


[Cover Illustration | By Anne Anderson (1874-1930) – http://www.artsycraftsy.com/anderson_prints.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6777091%5D

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s