October 1, 2012

Learning from Esther

            Too bad that Esther shows up just once in the Common Revised Lectionary.  She is surely worth more than one sermon every three years!  Christians have often treated this text with dismissive attitude; Luther was chief among them.
            This little book is unusual in the canonical context; it never mentions God—at least not explicitly.  It is one of two books named for a woman, and it is a real page-turner (as is the Book of Ruth.)  It reads like a romance novel with all the trappings of a beauty pageant, seductive wiles, fancy banquets, and the ascendance of an ordinary girl to the royal court.
            The historical setting is in Babylon where many Jews remained after the exile, while others returned to the Judean homeland.  Thus it is a diaspora story, written to explain the origin of the Jewish festival of Purim, which celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire (one of only two feasts not prescribed by Mosaic law.)

            An orphan reared by her uncle Mordecai, Esther learns of the threat to her people posed by the Prime Minister, Haman.  As Queen, she risks her life to persuade King Xerxes (Ahasuerus) to reverse the royal edict that would have destroyed the Jews dwelling there.
            Of this tale, Kate Huey writes: God’s deliverance of the people is not “through amazing, miraculous events but through the actions of flawed but courageous human beings who were probably never sure they were doing the right thing.”  There is wisdom in this observation.  We act as best we can discern and may only understand the providential guidance of God in retrospect.
            Esther does not act alone; Mordecai is critical to the story, as we know.  Their collaboration—sharing information and strategizing—is the means God uses to preserve the people of covenant, albeit persons little concerned about their historic land.  Together they outsmart a bumbling King and his ambitious vizier.
            Being in the right place at the right time is essential for this story of deliverance.  The most quoted saying of the book, “for such a time as this,” recognizes that God uses human instrumentality in ways far beyond our imagining.  When we are attentive to the currents that swirl around us, we may perceive our role as crucial in the accomplishment of God’s purpose.
            In God’s great mercy, flawed humans can become instruments of deliverance in our time.  Our courage matters in God’s redemptive project with this groaning world.
            Molly T. Marshall

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