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Tuesday, September 22, 2009
COURAGE FOR COMMUNITY What is true greatness? In Mark’s gospel, Jesus speaks of greatness through calls for bold service and courageous hospitality that preserve community in trying times. In today’s focus passage, the people of Israel in exile are at risk; Esther acts with such greatness and wisdom to defeat a deadly plot and thus preserve the Jews. Esther 7:1–6, 9–10; 9:20–22. This story is set in the court of King Ahasuerus, described as ruling “127 provinces from India to Ethiopia” (Esther 1:1). Esther and her cousin Mordecai are living in the community of Jewish exiles in the lands ruled by King Ahasuerus. When Queen Vashti is banished for her disobedience, Esther is selected as the next queen. Following Mordecai’s advice, Esther does not reveal she is a Jew. Later, when the king’s chief advisor, Haman, hatches a scheme to secure Ahasuerus’s approval of genocide against the Jews, the deadly plan is approved with neither advisor nor king knowing Esther is a Jew. Esther’s cousin Mordecai declares the time for silence is over. Mordecai hints at divine providence: “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for such a time as this” (4:14). Esther calls upon the Jewish community to support her with fasting. Esther’s courageous action to preserve her community begins at a banquet. When King Ahasuerus asks “What is your petition?,” Esther asks for her life and the “lives of my people” (7:3). She identifies herself as a Jew and declares solidarity with her people. Further, Esther translates the obscenity of the planned genocide into an attempt by Haman to do damage to the king. Even though Ahasuerus had approved Haman’s plan, he flies into a rage. The writer of Esther uses irony in the telling. For example, consider the family histories of Mordecai and Haman. The text says Mordecai is a Benjaminite (2:5) and Haman is an Agagite (3:1). The hatred between the Benjaminites and Agagites was centuries old. In 1 Samuel 15:7–9, the story is told of an Israelite victory led by King Saul the Benjaminite against King Agag. Also consider the details of Haman’s fate. Ahasuerus does not order Haman’s execution for plotting the death of the Jews. Instead, the king misunderstands Haman’s actions of pleading for mercy from Esther as a physical assault on her. Haman then hangs on the gallows he had constructed for Mordecai. As described in the closing verses of the reading (9:20–22), Mordecai, who becomes a high official in the government, establishes the Jewish celebration of Purim. Purim means “lots,” in reference to Haman’s casting lots to decide when to kill the Jews (3:7). While the story does not name God, God’s redemption occurs through Esther. Purim celebrates – with drama, meals, and gifts for the poor – this preserving of Jewish community by Esther’s courage. Human acts of courage may enact saving activity on behalf of community. Psalm 124 is a community prayer of thanksgiving, celebrating God’s saving actions in times of danger. James 5:13–20 calls for the community of faith to be bold and courageous in their prayers and actions for the sake of those made vulnerable by illness. In Mark 9:38–50, Jesus speaks of standing with those who take risks to engage in ministry. For Mark’s community in a time of persecution, cups of cold water, not causing little ones to stumble, and lives of shalom bear witness to how community may be preserved in threatening times. At great personal risk, Esther took action to preserve life. Our call as Jesus’ followers remains to take courageous action on behalf of wholeness in community. What communities today might be preserved through our courageous action as individuals and as a church?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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