Today's Lectionary Text
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; he went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. 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.
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. 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. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, 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. 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.
Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, “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.” When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, 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. 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.” Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, “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.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
I’ve always loved the book of Esther. As a woman in ministry, seeing a woman take control, act quickly in crisis, and save her people amidst the threat of death is a paradigm sparsely told in Scripture and history. It’s a book that also doesn’t mention God. While this posed a real conundrum for those determining what was canon and what was not, I find this novella, this story, so compelling for us today.
In this story, the leaders of the Persian empire have a racist agenda to exterminate all the Jews. Facing the genocide of herself and her people, Esther is given a simple yet unimaginably difficult choice: action or silence. Esther can choose to confront her husband, the king, and risk death simply by entering a room without being asked or she can do nothing. Esther can choose to plead with her husband, the king, to stop this ethnic cleansing or she can do nothing. Esther can save herself and her people or she can do nothing. With great courage and heart, Esther makes her choice, she acts, she pleads, she saves.
And where was God in all of this? While not named on the page, God showed up in the cries of Esther and her people facing genocide. God showed up in the words of encouragement from Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, that perhaps, she was called for such a time as this. God showed up in the bravery and allyship of Hathach, a king’s servant, who risked life for justice. God showed up in the stirrings of Esther’s spirit so that when faced with a choice of action or silence, the choice become clear.
Named or not, God shows up in our lives in simple, ordinary, timely ways. Named or not, God shows up in our lives through people, places and feelings. Named or not, God shows up and calls us to resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. While the book of Esther is a story with an inevitably happy ending, there are stories all around us, real life, enfleshed, stories with unfinished endings. May we be brave like Esther and pay attention to God in our midst, taking action to finish these stories in ways that promote life, justice and love.
--Pastor Maddie Johnson
Prayer for Reflection
God who shows up in whispers and sunlight and strangers alike, help us to pay attention to all the ways you are moving in the world and in our hearts. May we be a brave people attuned to your people crying out for justice. When given a choice of silence or action, may your Spirit prompt us to act and show up for one another. Amen.
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