August 19, 2011

Saturday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps 145, 1 Sam. 15:24-34, Lk. 17:11-19
Evening - Ps. 147, Esther 4:1, 5-17, Acts 28:16

Esther 4:1-17

A great time of mourning has overcome the Jews. In their distress they have forsaken their food for fasting, and given up their beds to lie in sack cloth and ashes. The reason for their sorrow is the decree of Ahasuerus, passed, at the urging of Haman, that went into all the provinces of Persia. The decree; destroy, kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, "both young and old, little children and women." (3:13). Every Jew was to die, and their property confiscated. Even the date of this mass execution was set, "the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar." We often read Scripture too quickly and without involvement. The more familiar we are with a passage, the more likely we are to read its words, yet be unmoved by the needs or suffering or faith it expresses. But let the decree of Ahasuerus sink into your being for a moment. Understand that it orders the execution of every Jew in the empire. Understand this will require gathering the Jews into concentration camps, where, in one day, they will all be killed. Imagine the fear and suffering this will cause; the blood, screaming children, and weeping mothers.

Understand also that, had these Jews returned to Jerusalem when they had the chance, they would not be facing this tragedy. They would be safe in Judea, the strongest military force in the area, and under the protection of the Persian Empire. Think of what it would have meant to those who returned, who rebuilt the walls of the city, and rebuilt the Temple of God, to have their presence and their help. But they chose to remain in Persia where life was easier and more peaceful. They had learned to love their new homes and lands instead of Jerusalem, and their loyalties lay with their new country, not with Israel; until now. Now they found it not a land of rest and peace, but a land of sorrow, suffering, and death. If only they had returned to Jerusalem when they had the chance. Mathew Henry wrote a telling comment on this passage, saying; "Those who for want of confidence in God, and affection to their own land, had staid in the land of their captivity, when Cyrus had given them liberty to be gone, now perhaps repented of their folly, and wished, when it was too late, that they had complied with the call of God." It will not be difficult to find parallels and applications of this passage to our own situation and lives.

Esther has not been living as a Jew. She has been assimilated into the Persian culture and enjoying her status a queen. Unlike Vashti, who would not come to the king's pagan festival, Esther must have participated fully in them, for she retained her position. Mordecai, has openly declared himself a Jew, and urges Esther to do the same. Our reading tonight includes what are probably the two best known verses in Esther. Verse 14 is Mordecai's plea for Esther to intercede for the Jews: "who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" Verse 16 is Esther's decision to act on behalf of the Jews, "if I perish, I perish."