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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 4: “They came for me . . .”

Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Today we hear a portion of Esther’s story that resonates with humans in every age. Mordecai puts on sackcloth and ashes as he mourns an impending holocaust. He warns Esther that her future is in danger whether she takes action or not. He reminds her that her thinking that there is safety for her in the palace is a false one. And he suggests that perhaps she is queen for precisely this moment in history. His words force her into action once she realizes that inertia only invites evil. Apathy or disinterest are no protection against malicious intent.

Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this. 

On this Ash Wednesday, as we wear ashen crosses on our foreheads at the beginning of the season of Lent, we explore our own role in human history; we examine our own fears and hopes. We pause in our journey through Esther to reflect on words from the 20th Century.

From the Holocaust Encyclopedia site: “Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps”.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

A Catholic nun uses ash to mark a cross on the forehead of a child in observance of Ash Wednesday at The Redemptorist Church at suburban Paranaque city south of Manila, Philippines Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Lent, a season of prayer and fasting before Easter. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Both Mordecai and Niemöller invite us to examine our hearts. Esther invites us to consider our response to God’s call.

Tomorrow, an invitation.

Who celebrates Ash Wednesday? Click on the image of the woman and child receiving ashes to learn more. 

Visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to learn how Niemöller dealt with his own anti-semitism: https://www.ushmm.org/

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Esther 1: Susa

Jacopo del Sellaio: The Banquet of Ahasuerus

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Over the next few days, we will explore the story of Esther, a recounting of how a brave young woman saves a nation of people by mustering the courage to respond to God’s call. Polar forces place her in grave danger; yet Esther survives to rejoice in God’s guidance and protection. As we accompany her on this journey from fear to joy, we move from ordinary time through Ash Wednesday to Lent to discover the potential for transformation. Esther invites us to move away from typical days of activity into a more quiet life of introspection. Like Esther, we examine our relationship with God to see how fear manipulates us. And like Esther, we arrive at a new level of understanding of God’s love.

This is the story of something that happened in the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled from India to Ethiopia – 127 provinces in all. King Xerxes ruled from his royal throne in the palace complex of Susa. 

UNESCO has declared Susa a World Heritage Site as one of the oldest cities in the world. Rebuilt by the Persian King Darius, inhabited by the monarch Xerxes in the Book of Esther, and later conquered by Alexander the Great, Susa represented a city where many cultures and peoples came together.

In this opening chapter of Esther’s story, we learn about Xerxes’ court. As a soldier and builder, he made his mark in the ancient world, and his famous Tukta banquets were reknown. It is at one of these feasts that our story begins.

The king gave for all the people present in the citadel of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones. Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.

Queen Vashti refuses to do as King Xerxes asks and so is banished from court. Into this scenario steps the innocent, beautiful young Jewish woman, Esther. We observe the wealthy and famous in this ancient world and we reflect on our world today. Celebrities and sports figures hold our interest, while the lower classes serve as the invisible support to a lavish life. The powerful command while the powerless live on the margins of society.  What questions come to us as we reflect on this opening chapter of Esther’s story?

Tomorrow, Esther becomes queen.

For another reflection on Esther 1, visit The Race of the Just post on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/2011/10/19/the-race-of-the-just/ 

King Xerxes is also known as Ahasuerus or Achashverosh. For more information on the people in this story, visit http://www.iranchamber.com/history/susa/susa.php, http://www.livius.org/articles/place/susa/, https://www.britannica.com/place/Susa, https://www.ancient.eu/Xerxes_I/, https://amazingbibletimeline.com/blog/esther-and-mordecai-under-xerxes-of-persia/,or http://www.womeninthebible.net/women-bible-old-new-testaments/queen-vashti/

 

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Esther: Received by the King

Ernest Normand: Esther Denouncing Haman

Saturday, February 10, 2018

We have learned from the story of Job that God interacts with us when we argue as easily as when we petition or praise. As we near the feast of Purim, we consider the story of Esther.

Notes and commentaries will help us unravel the confusion of the chapters in this book, and it will be a worthwhile task – for this story is one of the most uplifting in the Old Testament.  It reminds us of the fear all humans feel when they see a task looming before them which causes them to faint away.  It also reminds us of the surprising gentleness we will find in the heart of an awesome, fear-inspiring king.  And it finally reminds us of the courage we receive as grace when we place ourselves in the hands of this king.

Life is difficult.  It is threatening, it is sometimes over-powering.  Where do we go when we feel panic, anxiety, abandonment, a sense of uselessness or futility?  Like Esther, we discard our penitential garments and don our vestments of royal attire.  As adopted sisters and brothers of Christ, we take ourselves before our king, we lay our life in his hands, and we petition, even though we may faint away from the effort.

Spending time with this story we remember and reflect on some of its essential elements: we must respond when we are called (4:14), God saves us from the power of the wicked (C:29), those who plot our downfall end by suffering the punishment they would have inflicted on the faithful (6:8-11), hopeless situations can be reversed because with God all things are possible (9:1).

When terror looms before us on the narrow path we follow closely in this journey home, we might cry out like Mordecai: Do not spurn your portion, which you redeemed for yourself out of Egypt.  Hear my prayer; have pity on your inheritance and turn our sorrow into joy; thus we shall live to sing praise to your name, O Lord.  Do not silence those who praise you.  (C:9-10)

And like Esther: My Lord, our King, you alone are God.  Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand.  (C:14-15)

To these prayers let us add our own . . . Amen!

Tomorrow, Mordecai’s Dream. 

The citations with the letter C indicate verses from the Greek additions. (Senior 536-537)

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.536-537. Print.   

Written on July 16, 2008.

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Luke 5:17-26: Seek Consolation – Paralysis

Monday, December 18, 2017

Carl Bloch: Jesus Heals the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethzatha (Bethesda)

When fear paralyzes us, how do we react? Do we listen for the words whispered in our ears? Get up and start walking.

When worry saps our strength, why do we shoulder blame that is not ours? Do we turn to the one who can handle all our apprehension? Get up. Take your bedroll and go home.

When fear paralyzes us, how do we react? Do we believe the healing words of Christ who says: Get up and start walking.

When anxiety steals our serenity, who among us turns to the Creator for help? Who better to do the impossible? Get up. Take your bedroll and go home.

When darkness overcomes us, what light do we find? Who else but Jesus the Christ? Get up and start walking. Get up. Take your bedroll and go home.

When trouble assails us and shatters our calm, do we have the faith to rise, to take up the circumstances that have held us away from God, and to go home.

When we compare varying versions of these verses, we find healing for all that paralyzes us.

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Proverbs 1:8-19: Greed and Violence

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The writer of these verses is clear and explicit about the wiles of those who might entice us to lie in wait for the honest man or woman who sets our teeth on edge, or who stirs our yearning for some thing or some quality we do not have but want. The writer wants us to remain alert for those who delight in setting traps for the innocent in their search for wealth and power. The wily ones are always looking for new members to swell their ranks.

Walk not in the way with them . . . it may be difficult to see that actions appearing harmless can lead us to dark paths we want to avoid. And so we must be watchful.

These lie in wait for their own blood . . . it may be difficult to see that family, friends or colleagues engage in activities that lead too easily to the ways of violence. And so we must be prudent.

These set a trap for their own lives . . . it is worth more than we can say to step away from plots and schemes that bring down the innocent for our own gain. And so we must be faithful to God.

This is the fate of everyone greedy for loot . . . it is worth more than we can judge to live a life that is void of even the beginning stirrings of envy or greed. And so we must be compassionate and loving.

These are words meant to instruct and warn us. These are verses meant to steer us into The Way Jesus later lays out so clearly. Are these words we can trust? Can we put aside our anxieties when we realize that for millennia traps have been laid for the innocent? Can we hand over our anger to God even as we pray for our enemies? Might we quiet our fears and tame our anxieties while we wait in joyful anticipation of God’s justice? Might we step away from the violence that grows from our human greed, and follow The Way of Christ?

When we compare different versions of these verses, we discover new truth about the violence of greed and the holiness of the innocents who trust in God.

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1 Thessalonians 3Standing Firm in Faith

Sunday, July 9, 2017

From the MAGNIFICAT Evening Prayer Mini-Reflection: Even today, human beings have no control over storms at sea, and sometimes very little control over storms in the heart.  Only God has the power to still the tempest without and the tempests within. 

In today’s Noontime we can hear the anguish in Paul’s words . . . For this reason, when I too could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith.  There are times when we can bear things no longer, when we must hear from someone, when we must have a sign from God, when we insist on something more than blind faith and wild hope.  Our best antidote to this type of obsessive fear is the act of giving thanks for all that we are and all that we have received from God.  When the storms without and the storms within begin to brew, we must recall the so many times that we are rescued; and we take comfort from knowing that God loves us more than we can imagine.  When we turn to God in thanksgiving we will appreciate Paul’s words: What thanksgiving can we render to God for you? Paul has it right – when the going gets tough, the rocky path suddenly becomes smoother when we praise God.

In the end, what we want most is to know that all is well . . . and it always is when we live in Christ.  So let us give thanks and praise.

In the end, the only thing that matters is that we live in Christ . . . for existing outside of Christ is not the life we are called.  So let us give thanks and praise.

In the end, the only thing that matters at all is that we live with Christ . . . for living without him, living in fear and hopelessness is a life of anxiety and desperation.  So let us give thanks and praise.

Christ is in each of us.  When days are dark, let us give thanks and praise.  When days are bright, let us give thanks and praise.  Let us remain in Christ, in hope, in faith, and in love.  Then perhaps someone will write to us as Paul writes to the Thessalonians of his gratitude that we have remained strong in faith, bold in hope, and merciful in love . . .  For we live, if you now stand firm in the Lord.

Let us also stand firm . . . and let us give thanks and praise.

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Evening.” MAGNIFICAT. 26.10 (2010). Print.

A Favorite from October 26, 2010.

 

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Judges 6: Gideon’s Call

James Tissot: The Angel Puts Fire on the Altar of Gideon

Thursday, June 29, 2017

We have spent several days with this Old Testament Book in which we watch the Israelites enter into a cycle: neglect of their covenant with God, the worship of idols, repentance, a petition to God for help, God’s generous response, silence as God waits for the people to respond. God always sends a hero to save the faithful – and this particular hero is Gideon.

We find the following when we read commentary.

  • God asks Joshua, in the book preceding Judges, to lead the people into the Promised Land and he does.
  • God asks the people to wipe out those who worship pagan idols but they do not; and this sows the seed of future problems.
  • Prior to God’s intercession in the life of the faithful, the people are forced to run away from invading armies and literally “head for the hills” when these invaders arrived with chariots.
  • Once the people share a loving relationship with God, they have a rock of refuge, a bulwark of safety.
  • When the people neglect their relationship with God, the cycle of idol worship begins anew.
  • God always has a hero in mind.
  • God’s silence is the space we are given to respond to God’s deep and abiding love.

God calls Gideon while he is in the middle of his work, and Gideon, like many of those called, has many questions. He wants to understand why and how should go about the work God has in mind. God answers, as God always does, “I will be with you, do not worry.” Gideon praises and worships God when he realizes what is happening, that he will be an instrument of redemption in the people’s cycle of sin and repentance.

Like Gideon, we are likewise fearful in our response to God. We know what we are asked to do; yet frequently we are too frightened to step out of our comfort zone. In the end, however, no find that no other course of action is worth taking.

The story of Gideon also demonstrates for us that silence can be entirely appropriate when it is patient, loving, merciful, and just. A silence that waits, that whispers to the beloved, that calls the beloved back to the covenant, is a silence that heals.

So like Gideon, let us sit beneath our terebinth and call on God. For God will surely answer.

Adapted from a Noontime written on January 31, 2007.

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1 Peter 3:8-22: Salvific Suffering – Part III

The Sadducees

Thursday, May 11, 2017

What do we fear . . . and why?

We reflect on the story of the early apostles (Acts 5) as they remain faithful to Christ while suffering and rejoicing with equal energy and passion. When we open ourselves to God’s generosity, we come away refreshed and encouraged with the news that when we respond to the call to do God’s work, we know that we quickly find God in the obstacles that surround us.  We know that we are Rocks in company with Peter; we know that we can serve as foundations of the living temple; we see that we are able confront corrupt authority; we can rejoice in our suffering to bringing truth and light to the world.

When we reflect on this story, we understand that a small group of the faithful, through the power and love of the risen Christ, successfully challenges the old guard. We realize that the Sadducees are afraid to order a sentence of death on these Jesus-followers because they fear the people will revolt. They fear the power of the Spirit.

There is irony in this story. Those who inflict fear on others eventually experience fear themselves. This we see the power of the Spirit unfold, rising from fear to bring us peace. This,we begin to understand, is the gift of salvific suffering.

And so today we ask ourselves, what do we fear, and why?

Tomorrow, how do we suffer with Christ?

Adapted from a Favorite written in November 10, 2007.

 

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