In Appreciation of Esther

Thomas Goodhart Uncategorized 1 Comment

“Maybe you could cook some supper

Maybe you could change a king’s heart

Who knows but what you come into the world

For such a time as this”

 

The above lyrics are from a song by Rich Mullins, the late singer songwriter whose music was of the “Contemporary Christian” genre. Admittedly, I’m not much a fan of that genre of music but I do appreciate Mullins and his simple but poetic and lyrical weavings of scripture and faith into his songs. This one is called Who God Is Gonna Use and these particular lines are from the verse about Esther, a paraphrase of her uncle Mordecai’s warning, “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.” (Esther 4:14) Since today is the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (of which I’m sure we all are aware…) and is thus, Purim, this song has been playing in the soundtrack of my mind.

Purim. Sure, I knew the story of Esther, but I have to confess I wasn’t actually aware when Purim fell, or for that matter, really what it was. For the most part I celebrated that it was one of those holidays here in New York City where opposite sides was not in effect, meaning one didn’t have to worry about moving their vehicle if parked in a locations where street sweeping was scheduled. However, crossing paths in recent years with individuals who do know and celebrate Purim, I have gained a greater appreciation for this day, and especially for Esther.

Purim is the Jewish festival celebrating the victory over Haman and his genocidal schemes. As the story goes, set in the royal court at Susa, capital of Persia, we encounter King Ahasurerus, often attributed as Xerxes, who seems to be having some relationship issues—not to mention a drinking problem—that doesn’t end well for his wife. I mean not to make light of how thing start off: sexism, violence, and misogyny (as a previous the Twelve post brings up) are sadly par for the course in this ancient scenario. Add to this that our tale is really focused on the Diaspora Jewish community in Persia, one could probably portend that there will be some racism of some sort. Enter, the lovely Jewish maiden Esther who becomes the new Queen, as well as her wise uncle Mordecai and the evil Haman. The ensuing story entails Haman conniving a plot to destroy the Jewish people and Mordecai and Esther maneuvering to foil Haman’s plans. It involves intrigue and reversals; the courage, wisdom, and strength of our heroine; and oddly for a book of the bible, not once a direct mention of God.

Because God is not directly mentioned there has been significant religious discussion as to the worthiness of the book of Esther being in the cannon. There is also a goodly amount of scholarly debate about the role of fate and the presence of God. How exactly does God work in the story? Good stuff to discuss and debate. It would seem that we also should ask that question about our lives. How exactly does God work in the story of our lives? In a world that sometimes doesn’t seem that much different than the one that Ahasurerus, Mordecai, Haman, and Esther dwelt in, the repeating question, “who knows but for such a time as this?” seems just as pertinent now as then. Granted, I abhor the violence of the story, and I think God does too. But the relevance of it, the timeliness of the question, but for such a time as this—is powerful!

Which brings me back to Purim. It’s not generally a holiday that many Christians observe in any way. Where many of my Jewish friends spend their commemoration with fasting, reading aloud the text of Esther, and also enjoying tasty little hamantaschen (three cornered shaped fruit filled pastries), as well as some even dressing up in costumes—as one friend related, “it’s like the Jewish Halloween for us”—I will also read and observe the story of Esther and mark her strength, her courage, and her wisdom.

Today, incidentally is also International Women’s Day. So thank you Esther. And thank you to all the Esthers, and all women whose courage and wisdom and strength answer the call to have faith and are moved to action for such a time as this and any time.

 

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