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Esther 6: Reward

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Rembrandt: Ahauserus and Haman at Esther’s Feast

We cannot determine God’s timeline and when we watch how his plans unfold in our space and time we see that God has refined the shepherding of billions of souls to a mysterious art.  And it is something that he practices well.  Life is complicated.  God knows that rewarding one creature stirs envy in another.  This is the story of Satan and the fallen angels who succumb to their jealousy.  God knows that giving his creatures the choice to opt for darkness or light means that some of them will fall; but God also knows that his loving compassion leaves many opportunities for reform and changes in outlooks, and so he leaves his plans open . . . in order to work with the creations he so loves.

God is fully aware that his show of mercy stirs jealousy in the hearts of others, and so he prepares plans for these contingences.  We have seen and we have been told and we have experienced the fact that God will always turn harm to good.  The extremity or numbers or layers in any given situation are never too much for God to handle.  He is more than up to the challenge . . . for he is the creator of all we see and experience.

Today’s reading – another of my favorites – takes us to the beginning of another story of how a woman saves a nation.  It takes us to the place in the narrative where we see how the seed of envy blooms into a fully-blown narcissistic tantrum which in the end brings down the initiator rather than the intended victim.  Mordecai, a Jewish man living in the Persian court of King Xerxes (or Ahauserus), and his niece Esther, who is married to this King, have submitted their plea for justice.  The King has responded and now we await the sentence he will deliver.  As the king struggles with the plots that surround him and the information which has been brought to him, he goes back to a former event – a time when Mordecai saved his life by warning him of an assassination plot.  When we read today, we see how the evil plotted against goodness has a way – in God’s plan and in God’s timeline – of returning to visit itself upon the perpetrator.  What happens next to Haman is the very consequence he had wished to deliver to Mordecai and Esther – it is a punishment born out of the darkness of envy, and it goes home to exterminate its originator.

If you have time today, read this story through.  Different Bibles have different methods of presenting the material that was later inserted to flesh out the story but it is worth the trouble of sorting through all of this.  The story of Esther who would rather hide than confront evil with goodness and truth is its own reward.  Today’s lesson that we cannot understand how things will unravel around us is a story to carry in our hearts.  It both cautions us against entertaining ideas of revenge and it bolsters us in our hope that ultimately the light will overcome the darkness.  All is revealed.  All accounts are paid.  In full.  And this is what we have the opportunity to ponder today.

Reward often carries with it the fact that some human beings will covet the good fortune of others.  Some human beings will wish destruction for those who receive gifts from the king.  It remains with us to wait patiently for the ultimate outcome which the just king always delivers.  Those who plot in the darkness are done in by the very mechanism they set into motion.  This is divine justice at its best.  It is for the follower of Christ to discern his or her place in God’s plan, to be patient as events unfold, and to pray for the redemption of those who delight in the darkness.


Written on June 4, 2009 and re-posted today.

Image from: http://www.artbible.info/art/large/94.html

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Esther: On the Fringes

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The survival of a minority is central to the story we have explored over the last two weeks; and the threats and schemes we see in Esther’s story speak to many among us today. The reality of vulnerability rises as power corrupts. Those who live in the shadows of affluence live without the security taken for granted by the privileged. We excuse discrimination. We nurse prejudices. Rather than find root causes for the demons that stalk us, we build protective walls around our comfort zone and describe “the other” as someone to fear. Esther tells us of the danger we invite when we nurture our contentment to overlook the powerful effects of envy. None of this is limited to ancient times. Indeed, too often we live this way today.

Haman was furious when he realized that Mordecai was not going to kneel and bow to him, and when he learned that Mordecai was a Jew, he decided to do more than punish Mordecai alone. He made plans to kill every Jew in the whole Persian Empire. (3:5-6)

When we re-read these verses and insert the names we see in our headlines, we bring this story into focus. Dislike for “the other” we do not know – or whom we do not understand – plants seeds of hatred. In contemporary society, a torrent of news loops waters nascent loathing, while social media filter bubbles create hothouses that spur growth of hatred. Those along the fringes of society find themselves far from any possible avenue of inclusion.

Haman hurried home, covering his face in embarrassment. He told his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him. Then she and those wise friends of his told him, “You are beginning to lose power to Mordecai. He is a Jew, and you cannot overcome him. He will certainly defeat you.” (6:12-13)

If we hope to build the bridges God asks us to build, we must open ourselves to the fear of others to offer assurance. Only then will we find the tools to create unity.

If we hope to inspire the compassion Christ asks us to nurture, we must ask gentle questions with patience and understanding. Only then will we find the courage to respond to God’s call.

If we hope to build peace in a world longing for harmony, we must act in the Spirit to include, to heal, to love. Only then will we begin to erase the lines that create the margins on which too many live.

Tomorrow, a final word from Esther as e move through our Lenten journey.

When we compare other translations of these verses, we begin to find our way through the fog of hatred. 

To learn more about filter bubbles, visit: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2113246-how-can-facebook-and-its-users-burst-the-filter-bubble/ 

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Esther 7: The Persecutor

Giovanni Andrea Sirani: Esther Before Ahasuerus

Saturday, February 17, 2018 

Yesterday we assessed the narcissism we might discover in ourselves and how unilateral listening governs our world circumstances. Today we reflect on how Esther and Mordecai operate in their world – and what we might learn from them.

It is clear that Haman is consumed by envy of Mordecai and while we cannot analyze this character from a Biblical story, we can certainly learn from his actions. It is also clear that Esther – as a woman but especially as a Jewish woman in a non-Jewish court – fears for her life, and the life of her nation. The kingdom of Xerxes is an ancient one in which individual rights are denied to most. We might believe that we as a species have evolved and it is true that in general, we have. However, many peoples in our modern society have no benefit of personal rights. When this happens, we might speculate, it is often the result of someone, or some group, behaving in a narcissistic manner. Navigating these troubling conditions is difficult at best. What does the story of Esther have to tell us?

Queen Esther answered, “If it please Your Majesty to grant my humble request, my wish is that I may live and that my people may live”.

Humility is usually an ineffective tool against brutality; it seems to encourage even more violence. Yet, here we see that despite her humble behavior and words, Esther acts in order to save a people.

“If you keep quiet at a time like this, help will come from heaven to the Jews, and they will be saved, but you will die and your father’s family will come to an end. Yet who knows—maybe it was for a time like this that you were made queen!” (Esther 4:14)

On Ash Wednesday when we explored Chapter 4, we considered Martin Neimöller’s advice that if we do not speak against evil and injustice, we guarantee not our safety, but our sure demise. Despite their fear, Esther and Mordecai form a solidarity of two as they begin a quiet, patient assertion of justice and truth.

An article from Psychology Today gives us guidelines to manage the effects of narcissism. These experts advise that we evaluate both our surroundings and the narcissist to look for context, that we maintain a firm sense of purpose along with a sense of humor, and that we remain realistic about how much we can accomplish when working with the self-centered. If we are in dangerous surroundings, controlled by a persecutor as Esther and Mordecai are, we begin by turning to God and finding others with whom to form solidarity. We move forward with patience, reliance on the Creator, persisting in hope, and acting in mercy.

Tomorrow, fighting back.

When we read varying translations of this story by using the scripture link and the drop-down menus, we find an opportunity to transform a world beset by narcissism.

For more advice, read the August 14, 2014 post “Eight Ways to Handle a Narcissist”. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201408/8-ways-handle-narcissist

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Esther 6: Narcissism

Paul Alexander Leroy: Haman and Mordecai

Friday, February 16, 2018

Me, of course.

Our current national stage, with its cast of actors, asks us to explore the concept of narcissism. Unless we are professional in the field of psychoanalysis, we must consult those who have expertise and experience in discovering and handling those among us who suffer from this disorder of unilateral listening. For the layperson, an article from Psychology Today outlines six signs of narcissism, contains a quiz with which readers might assess themselves, and offers strategies to become less self-centered. Today’s reading from Esther gives us another template with which to measure ourselves.

Have royal robes brought for this man—robes that you yourself wear.

Are we able to use the criticism we receive in a positive manner? Are we willing to see that we are sometimes wrong?

Have a royal ornament put on your own horse.

Can we see that a world exists beyond our person? Do we believe that others hold truths that are, at the least, equal to our own?

Then have one of your highest noblemen dress the man in these robes and lead him, mounted on the horse, through the city square.

Are we willing to abide by the guidelines set by the group? Do we see ourselves as so special that rules do not apply to us?

Have the nobleman announce as they go: “See how the king rewards someone he wishes to honor!”

Are we willing to give others the praise we wish to have ourselves? Are we comfortable when others receive praise we seek?

Haman hurried home, covering his face in embarrassment.

Are we quick to anger? What do we do with our negative feelings? How do we manage resentment and bitterness?

Haman, his family and friends have much to teach us about ourselves; our current national and local politics ask much of us. As we move through these opening days of Lent, are we willing to explore the concept of narcissism, and how it affects us personally and collectively?

Tomorrow, dealing with the narcissists in our lives.

When we read varying translations of this story by using the scripture link and the drop-down menus, we offer ourselves an opportunity to move away from our own narcissism.

Read the article cited above posted on October 25, 2012 at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201210/are-you-narcissist-6-sure-signs-narcissism

Why does Mordecai not bow to Haman? Click on the image above or visit: http://thetorah.com/why-did-mordecai-not-bow-down-to-haman/  

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Psalm 89: A Hymn in Time of National Struggle – Part V

Saturday, January 27, 2018

John Singleton Copley: Eli and Samuel

Finding the Servant

We have taken a quick journey through the Books of Samuel to see that life in our century has much in common with life in ancient days. Some might say that as a species, we have not made much progress. Others may disagree, pointing to improved living conditions for some, though not for all. The Old Testament perspective we see in 1 and 2 Samuel gives way to the New Testament good news that God has come to live among us as a clear sign of God’s love for us. The message that Jesus brings is clear, although not always altogether comfortable. Christ calls us today to tend to those on the margins of our societies who do not benefit from the advances some of us have made, and this clearly will cause times of national struggle.

If we look at the Books of Samuel more closely, and the vivid characters who tell their stories so well, we see clear lessons for living.

How do we handle the corruption we experience? We might take a lesson from God’s message to us when we remember that the young prophet Samuel – who leads a young nation to unity – is raised by a corrupt Temple priest. If God protects and guides a faithful servant to blossom and grow in an environment that lacks authenticity, then we must trust God to protect and guide us today. (1 Samuel 3)

What do we do with our feelings of jealousy or envy?  It is possible to hear a message when we recount the story of Saul’s greed and disappointment when the women sing, Saul has killed thousands, but David tens of thousands. If God inspires David to show courage and love to his enemies, then we must trust God to inspire us today. (1 Samuel 18-19)

Matteo Roselli: The Triumph of David

How might we step out of our comfort zone? Perhaps we learn something about the story of David showing mercy to Saul during the time when Saul persecuted David. If God provides strength and hope to a faithful servant during a time of national turmoil, then we must trust God to bring us strength and hope today. (1 Samuel 24)

How might we better understand God’s plan? We might learn a lesson when we take in the story of David among the Philistines. If we find ourselves working well with our enemies – much to our surprise – then we must trust God’s wisdom and grace more than we trust our own instincts. (1 Samuel 27)

We hear this story . . . we take it in . . . and then we reply with the psalmist and King David . . . O Lord, I will always sing of your constant love; I will proclaim your faithfulness forever.

When we compare other translations of these chapters in 1 Samuel, we open ourselves to God’s fidelity, hope, love, grace and wisdom.

We can learn more about the priest Eli who raised the prophet Samuel in the Temple when we visit: https://bible.org/seriespage/4-rise-samuel-and-fall-eli-and-sons-1-samuel-31-422

Tomorrow, more lessons from Samuel.  

 

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Acts 17: Uproar – Part I

Wednesday, October 5, 201625-republican-convention-chaos-w750-h560-2x

A Favorite from September 28, 2009.

The Apostle Paul causes uproar wherever he goes in the name of Christ.  He ruffles feathers.  He points out inconsistencies.  He speaks convincingly and with authority as one who has been on both sides of the argument. He inspires faith, hope and charity in some, jealousy in others.  As with the story of David we understand that those who serve as God’s vessels will always be envied.  This knowledge can discourage us from continuing in God’s service . . . or it can call us to bond with God even more strongly.  The choice is always ours to make.

Yesterday’s Mass readings continue this same theme: Numbers 11:25-29, James 5:1-6, and Mark 9:38-48.  And there are these from yesterday’s Morning Prayer: Matthew 6:19-20 and 1 Peter 1:17-19.  They advise us that resentment will be a constant companion in this life and that we will want to learn to live without it here so as to not anticipate it in the next life.  Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . .  Store up treasures in heaven . . .

Each gesture and each word we enact in the world is our definitive representation of God.  When we speak, or fail to speak, when we act, or fail to act, we bring God into our homes, our work and prayer places and our communities.  What do our words and gestures say about who we are?

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Isaiah 61: Prophecy Fulfilled

Monday, June 6, 2016jesus reads isaiah

The opening words of this chapter are the ones that Jesus stands to read in his hometown synagogue (Luke 4: 16-21). He follows this reading with the announcement that the words are fulfilled for them that day. Tension builds as those present question Jesus and realize that he is, indeed, saying that he is the Messiah, and that they have not listened to him or to God. A riot results and the congregation hauls him off to the edge of the cliff to hurl him over; but in the melee Jesus slips away.

These are such troubling words. These are such comforting words. Why are the people so angry? Why does the congregation reject good news? Why does Jesus’ audience refuse to allow the healing of broken hearts, anxiety and worry? When we pause to reflect, we realize that we too frequently do as this crowd does in Luke 4. We also reject the beautiful good news that Isaiah brings to us.

Envy is a powerful force. Those who would hurl the Messiah from the cliff forget that God alone saves, God alone heals, and God alone brings true freedom from all that holds us down. The crowd was thinking – in the same pride-filled way that we also might think – that they alone were responsible for all good things in their lives. They did not want to believe that they were not Yahweh’s faithful who followed The Mosaic Law to the letter. And they did not want to be challenged about their conduct, nor did they want anyone to discover the corruption of the system they had established.

As we read the words of Isaiah’s Chapter 61, in this “Book of Consolation,” we are filled with the knowledge that through perseverance and pain, good things do happen. Each day my children and grandchildren, my students, friends, colleagues, and even strangers bring God to me. I am healed by their prayer, their action, their connection with me in and through Christ.

And all God asks in return is that we take the suffering we have experienced and transform ourselves so that we too may in turn heal and cure. God asks that we also bring hope to the afflicted. Isaiah reminds us that we are all anointed. We are all called. We only need to reply to God’s call in word and deed.

Adapted from a reflection written on February 27, 2007.

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Luke 15:1-32: All That was Lost

7_lost-sheep-jesus

The Lost Sheep

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 6, 2016

Sceptics wonder where the faithful see God in the world that surrounds us. Non-believers take credit for all that they store up; they blame themselves and others for a lack of success. The faithful move forward with their eyes on the prize . . . the knowing that all that was lost will in the end be found, all who were scorned will in the end be justified, and all who were last will certainly be first.

In today’s Gospel we again hear the familiar stories of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. We hear Jesus’ clear assertion after each of these stories that God rejoices more over the gratitude of the lost who are found than the steady love of those who never leave him. This certainly gives us something to consider.

We may see ourselves as sheep who never leave the shepherd’s side . . . but when we are honest we know that we have each been lost at one time or another. We might welcome the joy the creator showers on us.

Parable-of-Lost-Coin-Feti

The Lost Coin

There’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

We may see our tiny turnings toward God as insignificant moments in a turbulent day . . . but God sees them as a wonderful occasion to rejoice. We might join in the rejoicing of others.

Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.

We may see a lack of fairness in our lives when those who are newly arrived to faith in God are celebrated as much or more than those who have been faithful . . . but God invites all of us to join in the celebration of the return of those who have been found. We might tell others this good news of God’s goodness.

You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!

1-1-1-1-1-A-A-lost-coin-found-We may each remember times when we have envied the good fortune showered on others when we work long and hard to remain close to God. We may each have experienced times in our lives when all that has been lost far overshadows what appears to be found. In all of these occasions, when we look carefully and honestly, we will see that what once was empty has been made full. What once was dark now has been made light. And what once was lost has
most beautifully been found. When we give thanks to God for this marvelous gift of redemption, we become part of the celebration and great joy in the kingdom that erupts when the lost are found.

prodigal son

The Lost Son

When we believe that we do not see God’s presence often in our lives, let us look at these times when weariness, anger, jealousy or envy may have unfocused our vision. And let us ask God for clarity as we begin this week’s Lenten practice. Rather than thinking: “God’s generosity is sometimes not fair,” let us think instead, “When we put away the past and follow God’s example of enormous generosity, we are better able to welcome the lost back home into the kingdom . . . and to give thanks for our own part in God’s great rejoicing”. 

For other reflections on, The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and The Prodigal Son, use the blog search bar to explore. 

To learn about The Innocence Project that assists prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing, visit: http://www.innocenceproject.org/free-innocent. Find out about how more than 300 people in the United States have been exonerated, including 20 who served time on death row. For a story Anthony Ray Hinton, one of those freed after nearly 30 years in Alabama, forgives those who incarcerated him, visit: https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/04/09/30-years-on-death-row-a-conversation-with-anthony-ray-hinton#.VmpdpHOMQ 

Tomorrow, coming to believe.

 

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Luke 4:24-30: The Brow of the Hill, A Reprise

Monday, February 29, 2016Jesus-Icon1

How do we rise again once we have failed? How do we handle jealousy and envy, our own and that of others? Where do we find our escape route on the brow of the hill and how do we get to it when the world crowds around us? Today’s Gospel calls us to re-visit the December 2011 post on how Jesus reacts to the rejection he experiences in his own home town. When we realize that those closest to us seem like strangers, we read these verses and consider how Jesus is rejected in his own hometown. We reflect on how he escapes the anger of those he wants to save. And we continue our Lenten practice. Rather than thinking: “The dream of peace is an unreal and distant illusion,” let us think instead, “The dream of peace we hold is present in God’s kingdom. And God’s kingdom is now”.

For the original post, go to: https://thenoontimes.com/2011/12/13/the-brow-of-the-hill/ 

Tomorrow, seventy-seven times.

 

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