What a time we are living in… What a time to be alive.
Esther was not born into royalty; in fact, it is a very complicated and difficult story. By the time Esther is introduced, or Hadassah, as she is know by her Jewish name. She is an orphan, raised by her Uncle or cousin, Mordechi.
She is describes as having a lovely figure and was beautiful. Esther was brought to the King’s servant (one of the eunuchs in charge of the concubines) and won his favor and therefore was placed in the king’s haram. After a while she had won so much favor that she was given 7 female slaves, extra food and was given the best place in the harem. However, no one knew she was Jewish.
She kept her nationality and religion a secret as her cousin, had told her to. We are in the middle of Persia, the Jews have been exiled here under King Nebecanezzer and they are a secondary class. Keeping her identity a secret is the only way these advances would be possible. Each day Mordichi would cross the courtyard to check on her. When it was her time with the king she was to go to the palace for 1 day and night, after which she would transition to the concubines of the king and would not return to the king’s presence unless he specifically requested her.
After their night together, the king is pleased with Esther above all the others, places the crown upon her head and replaces Queen Vashti with Esther. After she becomes queen her cousin Mordichi learns of an assassination attempt on the king, he in turn tells Esther she tells the king, credits her cousin and the plot is superseded. As there are now holes in the chain of command, a man named Haman is promoted. Haman and Mordichai develop a feud, which leads to Haman convincing the king that there are people in his kingdom who keep separate from others, have different customs in their houses and do not keep the king’s laws. He then offers to pay the king to allow the soldiers to destroy them.
However, the Jewish people are so inconsequential to the king, not even knowing who they are or where they came from tells Haman to keep his money and do whatever he wants with the people. A decree is sent out and the people are bewildered. Which brings us to chapter 4, Mordaichi, along with many others mourn, in his morning he extends his custom of wearing sackcloth and ash and is kept from entering the palace gates. Esther is given information through servants about what is happening and what will happen to the people without her intercession. And this is it, the crucial moment. Such a time as this to intercede.
She must have courage- yes. Resourcefulness, yes. Bravery, yes.
But to intercede takes something else too- also takes the power of vulnerability. The people are vulnerable, her people, the people of her family, her God and her ancestors.
She now lives in a palace with servants and is named Queen, a woman of (limited) but a woman of power with the ear of the King while her people are vulnerable. Vulnerable to a vendetta, vulnerable to an indifferent king, vulnerable to being foreign in a strange land.
Esther has a choice to make, she is queen, but it is against the law go do to her husband, the king without being invited. Should she take the risk? Should she stay within the safety of her walls, or should she, standing within them, use her position to fight for those in her community, fight for her family, fight for her own dignity?
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Esther too is vulnerable. When one of us is vulnerable, we all are. God will save, Mordichi says, but our opportunity to take action will be gone.
Esther chose to use her position, her place of power, by any means necessary, for the betterment of her people. She risked her life before the king, in advocacy for others. But it was not one sided, she also asked her community to pray for her while she did so. This is our task, this is our call, this is who we are as the church. We much chose to use our position, our place of power, although limited, for the betterment of the people, together, in relationship.
We may risk our lives doing this, but this is true power, this is true faith.
Mary did it by saying “yes” to the angel Gabriel and agreeing to carry the Messiah. Jesus did it by putting his body between an angry mob and a prostitute, Paul did it by putting himself between a slave and a slave owner (although, questionable all around…) and Jonah even did it for a people he despised, because it was his call, by God.
Esther met her people’s vulnerability with her own. Their lives were on the line, so she risked hers too, despite her secret keeping, despite that she could have turned a blind eye. She chose to boldly act and intercede on behalf of the voiceless.
She literally stripped naked and walked into the king’s presence, she put herself- physically, emotionally, and spiritually between her people and the oppressor, she stepped in to take a punch by the bully, she stood in advocacy because she recognized that true power required a stripping of title and privilege in order to advocate.
She recognized that: vulnerability is honorable. Need is holy. Begging is an act of courage and sacred dignity.
Like Esther we as the church may be noticed for our beautiful buildings, stained glass, or great programs, the physical. But once we are inside the walls we must use our powers for such a time as this, to save our communities from perishing, our loved ones, the strangers we have never met, who are sitting outside our gates mourning, vulnerable, and desperate.
We do this by meeting their vulnerability with ours, listening to their needs, and holding each other in prayer for such a time as this. This is who we are as the church, this is how we live into the waiting of Advent.
The Reverend Shannon Meacham currently serves Ashland Presbyterian Church in the Baltimore suburbs. She lives there with her husband Reverend Derrick Weston and together they raise their four children. You can find her musings about any and all subjects on her personal blog, Pulpit Shenanigans, or listen to Pub Theology Live podcast, of which she is a co-host.
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