Friday, March 15, 2013

Reading the Bible for Lent: Esther

{I'm attempting to read the whole Bible during Lent this year, and blogging my way through it. The Bible is an old friend, but we fight sometimes. Ever hear of quitting something cold turkey? Well, this is my way of starting something cold turkey, if that makes sense. I'm facing it head on, with my eyes open, and a new way of reading. My hope is to read the entire text through the lens of Jesus (I'm figuring out what this means as I go along) and attempt a balance of honesty and charity, both of which I've lacked in the past. See also: The PentateuchJoshuaJudges and RuthMore on Judges1 & 2 SamuelKings and Chronicles, & Ezra and Nehemiah.}

Instead of writing about Esther myself, I'd like to link to a great series on the book: Rachel Held Evans' Esther Actually. I learned quite a lot reading it--about the historical context, details I never noticed before, and the feast of Purim which commemorates Esther's bravery. Esther is a fascinating book. Here's an excerpt from one of the posts in the series, but really, read the whole thing; it's worth it.

As we discussed last week, the book of Esther is a diaspora story. It is meant to help the scattered Jewish people come to terms with their identity and their faith when they are in exile, when they no longer have an independent homeland or temple. What does it mean to be Jewish--to be the people of Yahweh--when the Jews are being ruled by violent, opulant, and godless pagan kings? Is God still on the throne when the fate of his chosen people seems left to the whims of kings like Xerxes? How are the powerless to respond to power?  
This, I believe, is why we encounter that strange juxtaposition between darkness and comedy in the book of Esther, and why, perhaps, we never read God’s name. Power, the author seems to be saying, is ultimately an illusion. Beneath the golden chairs and packed harems and drunken parties and patriarchal edicts are a bunch of sinful, insecure, and weak people...people whose attempts to puff themselves up only make them look silly.  
In fact, you will notice that those with the most power in the story are the ones who behave with the most weakness. Not once in the story of Esther, for example, does Xerxes actually make a decision on his own. He is coaxed and coddled by his advisors, by his eunuchs, by Haman, and ultimately by Esther.  Major decisions in Persia are made not after prayer and fasting, but on whims, in response to petty personal sleights, by the of casting lots. It is an empty, foolish power. 
This would all be terribly frightening were it not for the quiet, and at times hidden, hand of God, working all things together for good. I suspect that this is why the Jews dress up in costume, feast, celebrate, and laugh in response to a story about their near destruction as a people. 
They laugh because they are in on the secret: that they serve a God who uses indentured eunuchs to change the course of history, orphan girls to reverse the decisions of kings, and rebellious pagan queens to put it all in motion. 
They laugh because they know earthly power - be it patriarchy or the Persian Empire -  is just a big show. In the end, it is God who uses the weak to humble the powerful. It is God who makes all things new. 

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...