- Mark 9:38-50
Reversal, Pastor Kinsey
The reversal of fortune for the people of God in the book of Esther is stunning reading! If not for Queen Esther, the chosen people would have perished, in this story!
Of course, it is a novella, in genre, with elements of a popular romance novel, and stylized characters, like Queen Esther as the young and beautiful heroine; Hamen, a wicked, scheming villain; cousin Mordecai, a wise older father figure; and King Ahasuerus, an inept and laughable ruler – with heavy notes, of contemporary parallels, to our own! Thankfully, in the book of Esther, Good triumphs over evil, and like a telenovela, all ends happily, albeit, accidentally, for the heroine, Queen Esther.
It is not meant to be historical exactly, but it does take place in a real setting, at the height of the Persian Empire, as they controlled 127 surrounding countries, including Israel. The Jews had been overrun by the Babylonians, who were then overrun by the Persians. And the Persians permitted the Jews to return to Israel from exile, but some – like Mordecai and Esther – had stayed.
Among the reversals in the novella, is Esther’s rise from lowly courtier, all the way to Queen, which enables her, to position herself, to save her people – the biggest reversal of all! And from the plot Esther cleverly devises, comes the Jewish Festival of Purim, celebrated usually in early March every year, ever since. It’s a celebration of this reversal, and its subversive victory. It can be as raucous as Mardi Gras, but meaningful as Christmas!
Throughout, Esther does not reveal her Jewish heritage to the Persian court. But in novella fashion, we the reader, are clued in from the beginning! Will she survive? Will she be caught? Stay tuned next week and find out!
But it is her proud cousin Mordecai, the other courtier, who puts them in danger, by steadfastly refusing to bow before the evil Haman, a zealous ideologue. When Hamen becomes enraged with Mordecai’s behavior, he then plots how to get the king’s signature on the decree to destroy the entire Jewish population throughout the empire – a genocide.
It’s no wonder that Purim – a celebration of this reversal – is so popular to this day(!) given that the threat to Jews around the world has continued through the centuries, as they have become a perpetual scapegoat for too many despots and xenophobes. So Purim is that 2-day festival that celebrates Queen Esther’s reversal of their Shoah, and victory over the evil courtier, and king’s edict, in a festival of thick satire and mocking costumes, a sort-of-Halloween of joyous rebellion!
The greatest danger may be how the king is such a buffoon, himself! He’s ruled by his emotions, instead any clear plan, or any ability to listen to good advice! (Proving, you don’t need Twitter to wreak havoc!) And a perfect illustration of this is in chapter 3, before our reading today. After the king has announced his edict to annihilate the Jewish people, what do Hamen and the King do – they sit down together to enjoy a drink! For them, it’s just another executive order to sign, but for the many hard-working people of the kingdom it names, the consequences are devastating, a calamity!
So when Esther finally gets the King’s ear to make her case against the evil Hamen, in our Reading today, she is successful, only by accident!
I had (Trudy) our reader include verses 7 & 8, just two of the omitted ones from our First Reading today, that describe this part of the scene. In it, Esther uses her good graces with the king to ask that she, and especially the lives of all her people, be spared. The king, still not ‘getting it’ that she is Jewish, says, who has presumed to do this (to you)?!
“A foe and enemy,” Esther tells him, “this wicked Hamen! Then Hamen was terrified before the king and the queen.”
Then now comes vss. 7-8: “The king rose from the feast in wrath and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that the king had determined to destroy him. (8)When the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman had thrown himself on the couch where Esther was reclining; and the king said, ‘Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?’ ...”
The king thought that his courtier, Hamen, because he was prostrate on the couch, was making sexual advances on his Queen, totally mistaking that Hamen was pleading for his life. And so, it’s not Hamen’s plot to annihilate all of Esther’s people, that moves the king, and informs his final decision. But it’s his personal jealousy. The king does order Hamen to be hanged. So, he does the right thing, for all the wrong reasons! His laughable – if it wasn’t so dangerous-kind-of-ineptitude, that his good courtier’s all around him, try their best to contain – reads suspiciously like Bob Woodward’s tell-all book, “Fear!”
Our human suffering, does not always make sense. It can come out of the blue. In fact, the capricious kind, may be a sizable chunk of it, if you consider natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes, along with the misguided edicts of our rulers and elected leaders!
But here, in the book of Eether, we discover as a people of faith, that our lives – though not determined by any authority other than our God – can and are, significantly shaped by the social and political systems that we live under – even in a democracy, which has been said to be, the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried!
When the disciple John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” Jesus’ response was, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Jesus is willing to make common alliance with other groups, other organizations, other practitioners, who weren’t following him. Like skewed lines – parallel but which will never intersect – Why would you want to stop this healer from doing good, Jesus says – from exorcising demons and bad spirits, and saving people from the forces of evil that rebel against God (as we say in our baptismal service)?! We need to be open to everyone who isn’t against us!
And, in the face of evil and oppression, including despots, we need a strong faith; we need courage, to stand together, as the people of God!
Like Queen Esther, we often don’t know the outcome of our efforts to do good, we can only do them because we believe we are acting as God would have us act, for the life of the world our God has created and made for us. Our real life, of course, is not a Novella. But our faith – in hope, and in action – is based on the ultimate assurance that good does prevail over evil – over the chaos which too often seems so close and dangerous – and is built on the strong foundation of God’s action, the vindication, on the third day – the Great Reversal!
Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”
Let us, “Have salt in ourselves! And be at peace with one another.”
Readings for 19th Sunday after Pentecost, September 30, 2018