Tuesday, September 25, 2018

I Love Esther


A few years ago, I taught a men's Bible study on the Book of Esther, and I loved it. Each week, we read a different chapter, and, as I prepared for it, I found I couldn't put the book down. I needed to know what happened next. In the Jewish tradition, the entire book is read during the feast of Purim, as God's people recall how Esther spoke up and intervened on behalf of the Jews, risking her life to save her people. Containing ten narrative chapters, it is easy to sit down and read the whole thing in twenty minutes.

This Sunday, we will hear a tiny taste of the book as we read selections from chapters seven and nine. It is a shame that the congregation does not hear the whole story, but I'm relieved that we are currently reading Esther in the Daily Office. Although we read it yesterday, by the time we get to Sunday's lesson and hear of Esther's request, we have missed the part where she risks her life to approach the king. By the time we read from chapter seven, we have skipped over the part where Esther calmly asks the king if she might through a banquet for her rather than expose her entire plan. We miss chapter eight, in which she offers to throw another banquet, again forestalling her request.

In Sunday's reading, we get the isolated and thus strange connection between the king's decision to hang Haman and the abatement of his anger. What we have not read is how the king is despotic, moved to rage at the slightest offense. He is a child-like figure who must be cajoled with the offer of power, food, wine, and sex. We do not see how Esther uses her sexual identity as an expression of her power rather than as the servant the tyrant king wants her to be.

Although we read about wicked Haman, we do not recognize in Sunday's reading that he is an insider, a favored servant of the king. Haman is the right-hand-man of the tyrant, whose own greed and scheming have led to the danger that the Jews are in. We miss the fact that the king has agreed to go along with Haman's plan all along because the king was not thoughtful enough to question his advisers or look beyond his next banquet or orgy.

Esther is a bold story of human greatness. Yes, God is presumed to be active through it all, but God is never mentioned in the Book of Esther--not once. The story is an invitation to us to commit ourselves to walking in God's paths even when surrounded by ungodly people and unholy politics. Has there ever been a time when we need this story more? On Sunday, we will get a glimpse of the story, and I hope it makes us want more. I don't think I'll be preaching on Esther. This is, of course, the only time Esther shows up in the Sunday Eucharistic lectionary, and it is a shame to let it pass by. Again, I'm thankful for the Daily Office.

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