Archive for the ‘Esther’ Category

Esther VIII: Grace and Bile   1 comment

The triumph of Mordechai *oil on panel *52 x 71,5 cm *1617

The triumph of Mordechai
*oil on panel
*52 x 71,5 cm
*1617

Above:  The Triumph of Mordecai, by Pieter Lastman

Image in the Public Domain

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This post covers Chapters 9, 10, and F (as The New American Bible labels them) of the Book of Exodus.

In the remainder of the Book of Esther many enemies of the Jews die and Esther and Mordecai live happily ever after.  An exaggerated number (75,000) of enemies of the Jews die violently, but no Jew engages in plundering.  Purim, a new feast, comes into existence.  Mordecai ranks second only to Ahasuerus, who rules well, presumably because Mordecai is advising him.  In the coda (in Chapter F) Mordecai recalls the dream from Chapter A and declares that dream fulfilled.

The Lord saved his people and delivered us from all these evils.  God worked signs and great wonders, such as have not occurred among the nations.

–Esther F:6b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Yet we know, do we not, that genocides have occurred and continue to do so?  There was, of course, the Holocaust during World War II.  Before that was the Turkish genocide of the Armenians during World War I.  Furthermore, there were genocides in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda during the 1990s.  In the history of the Americas the decimation of indigenous populations after 1492 has pricked many consciences.  Many other genocides have occurred, of course, but I trust that I have made my point.

We human beings have the responsibility to act collectively and individually, for the glory of God and the benefit of our fellow mortals.  Genocide is incompatible with that goal, as in most violence.  Affirming this principle is relatively easy, but determining the best tactics is difficult.  At that point disagreements arise.  This can become an opportunity for a healthy debate based on common ground or for something unsavory.  How another person responds or reacts indicates much about him or her, just as how I respond or react speaks volumes about me.  May more of us respond (not react) out of divine love and functions as agents of grace, not bile.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/epilogue-to-posts-scheduled-around-proper-12-year-c-revised-common-lectionary/

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Esther VII: Enemies   1 comment

Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther

Above:  Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 7:7-8:17

Psalm 55:16-23

Matthew 5:43-48

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You, God, will thrust them down

to the abyss of destruction,

men bloodthirsty and deceptive,

before half their days are spent.

–Psalm 55:23, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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In Matthew 5:43-48, part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands his followers to love their enemies and to pray for their persecutors.  Those instructions contradict the psalm and the designated portion of the Book of Esther.

In the Book of Esther Haman meets his grisly end and King Ahasuerus grants permission to Mordecai and Queen Esther to revoked the first royal edict and order anything (in his name) they deem appropriate.  Ahasuerus remains a figure through whom others govern.  The monarch orders the execution of Haman and his sons and gives his property to Queen Esther.  She and Mordecai write the second royal edict (as contained in Chapter E, as The New American Bible labels it) in the name of Ahasuerus.  They authorize Jews living in the Persian Empire to attack their (the Jews’) enemies.  Mordecai receives special honors, and, throughout the empire, Jews rejoice and their enemies do not.

How much of this is justice and how much is revenge?  In the Law of Moses the penalty for perjury to convict someone falsely is symmetrical:

If the man who testified is a false witness, if he has testified falsely against his fellow, you shall do to him as he schemed to do to his fellow.  Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst; others will hear and be afraid, and such evil things will not again be done in your midst.  Nor must you show pity; life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

–Deuteronomy 19:18b-21, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Nevertheless, there is a difference between justice and revenge.  I grasp the punishment of Haman yet wonder about the bloodbath reported subsequently in the Book of Esther.    “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” leaves the world blind and toothless in time.

I, as a Christian, read the Bible through what the late Donald Armentrout called the “Gospel glasses.”  The four canonical Gospels contextualize the rest of the Bible for me.  The ethics of Jesus therefore override contradictory texts in my mind.  I am still working on loving my enemies as I understand the distinction between justice and revenge on one hand and revenge and a rescue operation on the other.  Some people will not cease from oppressing because others appeal to their consciences, which might not exist.  Nevertheless, is even necessary violence something to celebrate?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Esther VI: Whom to Glorify   1 comment

Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther

Above:  Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 6:1-7:6

Psalm 55:16-23

Romans 9:30-10:4

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They attack those at peace with them,

going back on their oaths;

though their mouth is smoother than butter,

enmity is in their hearts;

their words more soothing than oil,

yet sharpened like swords.

–Psalm 55:20-21, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Our journey through the Book of Esther takes us through the sixth chapter and part of the seventh.  Ahasuerus, finally growing some part of a spine, recalls that Mordecai had saved his life in Chapter 2.  The monarch asks if the loyal courtier has received a reward for such fidelity and learns that the answer is negative.  Ahasuerus plans to reward Mordecai properly as Haman, who seeks to have the monarch send Mordecai to die, enters the royal presence.  Haman never has the opportunity to say what is on his mind, for Ahasuerus asks him what should happen to the man the monarch wishes to honor.  Haman, imagining that Ahasuerus means to honor him, explains details of an impressive ceremony.  The monarch turns the tables on Haman by instructing him to make those arrangements for Mordecai.  Haman, now in a desperate situation, is about to be in a worse situation, for Ahasuerus responds favorably to Queen Esther’s request for the deliverance of the Jews.  The monarch is angry to learn that Haman has manipulated him into nearly committing genocide.  Haman cringes in terror before the king and queen consort.

I propose that, as one reads that story from the Bible, one should imagine tones of voice and facial expressions.  Doing so makes the account come to life.

I have spent much time contemplating the Law of Moses recently.  Pondering timeless principles illustrated by culturally specific laws which assume a certain level of technology and other factors no longer applicable to many of us today has increased my regard for those principles, such as the truths that we human beings are completely dependent upon God, are responsible for each other, and are responsible to each other.  Obeying divine law is properly a matter of obedience to God, not works-based righteousness.  As Jesus says in John 14:15 (The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985),

If you love me you will keep my commandments.

I suppose, then, that St. Paul the Apostle objected not to the Law of Moses itself but to the misuse of it.  He favored focusing on what God has done, not what we mere mortals have done.  St. Paul was especially fond of fixating on what Jesus has done.

Haman, a proud, spiteful, and amoral man, sought to destroy innocent others to promote himself in the royal court.  Although he was a fictional character, real-life scoundrels who have been willing to sacrifice others (innocent or not) for their own glorification have populated seats of power throughout time.  They have not practiced righteousness, much less works-based righteousness.

May we seek to glorify God, not ourselves.  May we seek to love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves.  May we choose the higher path.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-tuesday-after-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Esther V: Courage   1 comment

Esther Before Ahasuerus

Above:  Esther Before Ahasuerus, by Tintoretto

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 5:1-14

Psalm 55:16-23

Colossians 2:16-3:1

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They attack those at peace with them,

going back on their oaths;

though their mouth is smoother than butter,

enmity is in their hearts;

their words more soothing than oil,

yet sharpened like swords.

–Psalm 55:20-21, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Our journey through the Book of Esther picks up with Chapter D (as The New American Bible labels it), which embellishes upon and replaces 5:1-2.  Queen Esther enters the presence of King Ahasuerus.  Perhaps she is manipulative in showing great deference to him, as to win his favor, but we can forgive her that, given the circumstances, which is to say, the possibility of execution.  The monarch is tender toward her and grants her whatever she wishes, which is a banquet the next day with Haman present.  Haman, meanwhile, continues to plot against Mordecai and has an impaling stake (for Mordecai’s execution) erected.  Haman is indeed one who, in the words of Psalm 55, has enmity in his heart.

The advice from Colossians to seek “the things that are above” is always appropriate.  Certainly placing one’s life at risk for the benefit of others falls into that category.  It is a courageous act, one that requires selfless love.  There is no higher love than to lay down one’s life for another or for others (John 15:13).  To risk doing that is close enough to that standard for that category, at least in my thinking.

I read the story of Esther in Chapters D and 5 then ask myself what I might have done in her situation.  I might have chosen the easy way out and laid low.  After all, who wants to die by being impaled on a stake?  The story convicts the great mass of us of our moral cowardice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-monday-after-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Esther IV: Fear Itself   1 comment

Esther--John Everett Millais

Above:  Esther, by John Everett Millais

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 4:1-17

Psalm 138

Luke 8:22-25

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Though I live surrounded by trouble

you give me life–to my enemies’ fury!

You stretch out your right hand and save me,

Yahweh will do all things for me.

Yahweh, your faithful love endures for ever,

do not abandon what you have made.

–Psalm 138:7-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The story in the Book of Esther resumes with the fourth chapter and includes the Greek addition The New American Bible labels Chapter C.  Mordecai and Esther digest the royal decree of genocide against the Jews.  Mordecai is not safe; neither is Esther, although she is the queen consort.  If she goes to visit Ahasuerus without him summoning her first, she risks death.  And if he does not order her death for that reason, he might have her killed for being Jewish.  In Chapter C Mordecai prays for God to deliver the Jews and Esther prays for guidance and for deliverance from fear.

Deliverance from fear occupies the core of Luke 8:22-25, in which Jesus calms a storm.  Although I affirm the proposition that he could have done that, I find the metaphor in the story helpful and the question of the literal story irrelevant to this post.  We experience storms in life.  Sometimes God delivers us from them.  On other occasions, however, God accompanies us through them and delivers us from fear instead.

Esther was correct to know fear.  Ahasuerus had probably ordered the death of Queen Vashti, whose offense had been to refuse to degrade herself.  He was also an easily manipulated monarch through whom others, especially Haman, governed.  Ahasuerus was not powerless, however, for he had the authority to order the execution of someone who went to him uninvited.  Furthermore, he had just ordered genocide against Esther’s people, the Jews.  She could have yielded to fear and laid low.  Esther could have preserved herself at the expense of her fellow Jews, but she found her courage and prayed,

O God, whose power is over all, hear the voice of those in despair.  Save us from the power of the wicked, and deliver me from my fear.

–Esther C:30, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

On March 4, 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said,

…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Out of fear we human beings become more stingy and selfish.  Out of fear we think and act hatefully toward others or merely condone the hateful actions of others.  Out of fear we retreat into passivity when the occasion demands courageous actions.  Out of fear we violate the Golden Rule, often while assuring ourselves of our imagined righteousness.

May we trust in God and act courageously, according to the Golden Rule.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Esther III: National Security   1 comment

Caiaphas

Above:  Caiaphas

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 3:7-15

Psalm 138

Acts 2:22-36

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Though I live surrounded by trouble

you give me life–to my enemies’ fury!

You stretch out your right hand and save me,

Yahweh will do all things for me.

Yahweh, your faithful love endures for ever,

do not abandon what you have made.

–Psalm 138:7-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The story in Esther picks up at the point at which Haman persuades Ahasuerus to order genocide against the Jews.  The official reason for the decree, according to the royal decree (as contained in Chapter B, as The New American Bible labels it) is national security.  The Jews allegedly follow laws which set them at opposition to all other people and to royal decrees.  The official purpose of the planned genocide is to restore the stability of the Persian Empire.  The actual reasons, of course, are Haman’s egotism and anti-Semitism.  As Dr. Samuel Johnson stated,

Patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel.

The reading from Acts 2 concerns the crucifixion of Jesus.  Roman imperial personnel executed Jesus, of course, but certain Jewish religious leaders were complicit in the unjust act.  As Caiaphas said in John 11:50,

You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

National security is a legitimate concern, one which requires difficult decisions sometimes.  Nevertheless, genocide is never a justifiable practice.  Just as national security has its place, so does patriotism.  My point is that some scoundrels hide behind these virtues and convince other people to support them in unjust actions.  I would like to be a pacifist, but my sense of reality prevents me from doing that.  I do propose, however, that most violence is immoral and unnecessary.  This is especially true of the violence planned in Esther 3 and the crucifixion of Jesus.

There is a proper balance between individual rights and the common good.  There is also such a thing as the tyranny of the majority or of a powerful minority.  The common good, by definition, cannot justify genocide or judicial murder.  Those with power have no moral right to victimize any person or population.  And nobody has a moral right to be complicit in such a plot or effort.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-friday-before-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Esther II: Heroes and Villains   1 comment

Mordecai and Haman

Above:  Mordecai and Haman

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 2:19-3:6

Psalm 138

Acts 1:15-20

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I praise your name for your faithful love and your constancy;

your promises surpass even your fame.

–Psalm 138:2b, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The plot thickens in Esther 2 and 3.  Mordecai thwarts an assassination plot against King Ahasuerus.  The two eunuchs who plotted to kill the monarch die after Mordecai alerts Ahasuerus via Queen Esther.  The loyal courtier receives no reward immediately; he must wait until Chapter 6 for Ahasuerus to think about doing that.  Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman, who receives a promotion for no apparent reason and who seeks to destroy not just Mordecai but all Jews in the Persian Empire.

The reason for Mordecai’s refusal to bow down is unclear in the Hebrew text.  However, in Chapter C, as The New American Bible labels it, Mordecai explains in a prayer that he bows only to God.  This is consistent with a later rabbinical interpretation.  The germane notes in The Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014) mention that argument yet prefers a different explanation, that Mordecai refused to honor an enemy of the Jews.  Those notes also argue that, in the Hebrew Bible, bowing to a human superior is permissible, as in Genesis 23:7; Genesis 43:28; Exodus 18:7; and 1 Kings 1:23.  Another interpretation from Jewish tradition is that, if Haman were wearing an idol on his chest, Mordecai would have bowed refused to bow to the object.

In the Acts of the Apostles the eleven surviving Apostles completed their number (twelve) by choosing one of the outer circle of 70 (or 72, depending on the translation) to replace the recently deceased Judas Iscariot.  They select St. Matthias, of whom we know little.  According to tradition he was a faithful evangelist who brought much glory to God and many people to salvation before becoming a martyr.

The main characters in the readings for today are Mordecai, Haman, and St. Matthias.  Haman seeks to glorify himself and harm others, Mordecai to glorify God and do his duty, and St. Matthias to glorify God, regardless of the cost to himself.  Two of the three died violently, one as a villain and the other as a martyr.

May we pursue righteousness, as demonstrated in the characters of Mordecai and St. Matthias and manifested by love of God and our fellow human beings, regardless of the cost to ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-thursday-before-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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