Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
Let’s spend a minute to establish the setting of this reading. The people of Israel are in exile. They were taken away from their homeland by the Babylonians. Now the Syrians have taken over the Babylonian empire. We are roughly 500 years before the birth of Jesus. Some of the Jews have gone back home, but only a few. The rest live as powerless aliens in the midst of all-powerful empire. They have been in exile for a while now. They are getting use to it; they are acclimating to the culture around them.
Two key characters are presented in today’s reading. Mordecai is a faithful follower of God’s ways. He has not been taken in by the culture around him. A law has been passed stating that all are to bow down and worship the statue of the king when they hear the trumpet blast. Mordecai refuses to do so (even when threatened with death.) The second character is, perhaps, the least likely hero of the Bible (right after Mary, the mother of Jesus). She is a minority in the country, she is a part of a strange cult, she is an orphan, we assume she is poor. She only has one thing going for her. She is beautiful! She is a relative of Mordecai and he has taken her in as his own child and raised her. She comes to prominence in the Persian Empire by winning a beauty contest!
Ultimately the story of Esther is one of identity. Who is she? Or, more importantly, who does she think she is? Does she think of herself as just a pretty face? It becomes clear in the reading that she does not think of herself as wielding any power. That’s a bit strange considering that she is a queen. At the very least we would think that she has the opportunity to speak with the king about matters of state. But she does not. In fact she puts herself in danger by even coming into the king’s presence without being summonsed. But who is she? Is she still an orphan without family? Is she simply one of the king’s wives? Is she Mordecai’s adopted daughter? Is she a woman of faith, a Jew? Is she a person of Israel living in exile, or is she now a Persian and settled in this new land?
She has been called by Mordecai to speak to the king. She is hesitant. She is being called to do something that makes her very uncomfortable, something she is not good at, that she does not do naturally. If she does not act, Mordecai tells her, she will be found out, and her true identity as a Jew will be made known. Can we relate to her story in any way? I can think of one. I feel we need to speak up for the environment and take action on global warming. I’m distressed that our President and other leaders are unwilling to do anything about it. How do I speak the truth to power about this issue?
Does the answer lie with Esther? Her response to Mordecai is interesting. She wants her faith community to support her. She is going to fast and pray, and she wants to make sure that others are doing the same. There is power in knowing that other faithful people are supporting us and helping us. Not to ruin the rest of the story, but she goes on to prepare a great feast for the King and for the evil Haman. It is through hospitality that she is able to change the king’s mind and save the people.
The Jewish festival at which Esther’s story is remembered is Purim. It is a celebration where the people are called to let go and have fun. There is a special cookie, which is baked just for this day. I’ve attended a Purim celebration and it’s a little like Halloween. People dress up, they cross dress. It is filled with Holy hilarity.
That’s in stark contrast to our current season of Advent. We are in the midst of the darkest part of the year. We are waiting for our savior to come, to bring light and overcome darkness. We are also called to consider the ways in which Jesus might be born into us. How might we become bearers of the good news for all people? How might we be called to save God’s people on earth? It takes a community of friends to help us figure that out. All we know is that God will not choose the strong and mighty to do it. And according to today’s story we all may have a lot more power than we realize.
Quotes for the Week
“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.” William Faulkner
“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” Mahatma Gandhi
“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.” Barbara De Angelis
“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” J.K. Rowling
“Tell me I’m clever, Tell me I’m kind, Tell me I’m talented, Tell me I’m cute, Tell me I’m sensitive, Graceful and wise, Tell me I’m perfect—but tell me the truth.” Shel Silverstien
“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.” George Carlin
Lesson Esther 4:1-17 (NRSV)
When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; 2 he went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.3 In every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
4 When Esther’s maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth; but he would not accept them. 5 Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what was happening and why. 6 Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate,7 and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. 8 Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people.
9 Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” 12 When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, 13 Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.
14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” 15 Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai,16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
Questions for the Week
What is one truth about yourself that you would most like to ignore?
What power do you have in this world?
What is something you are passionate about changing in this world?