Blogger, Brian Zahnd, posted on the site OnFaith this week. He began with the catchy premise, “I have a problem with the Bible,” and went on to say:
Here’s my problem…
I’m an ancient Egyptian. I’m a comfortable Babylonian. I’m a Roman in his villa.
That’s my problem. See, I’m trying to read the Bible for all it’s worth, but I’m not a Hebrew slave suffering in Egypt. I’m not a conquered Judean deported to Babylon. I’m not a first century Jew living under Roman occupation.
I’m a citizen of a superpower. I was born among the conquerors. I live in the empire. But I want to read the Bible and think it’s talking to me. This is a problem.
Reading Esther, it’s clear that the Jewish people were outsiders in Persian society. They had been displaced during the overthrow of Jerusalem and were now making the best of it in their new land. They were acclimated to their new society, but they kept their native/family/tribal language, they followed Jewish law, they were “different.” Haman says to King Xerxes:
There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. (Esther 3:8 NIV)
One of the themes in Esther is that of knowing and keeping your “place” in society. Queen Vashti refuses the King’s request for her to parade in front of his male guests to show off how beautiful (read: sexy) his woman is. As a result, she is banished from the King’s presence and looses her crown … her “place.” And, just so we don’t miss it, this decree is sent to all corners of the kingdom and written in every language so that “every man should be ruler over his own household.” (Esther 1:22 NIV) This is the order of society Persian society: women are subordinate to men. Women need to know their place.
Haman sees his place as right hand to the King. Such a privileged position! But when Mordecai doesn’t bow to that “place”, Haman becomes irate. Mordecai is a Jew. The Jews need to learn their place. Everyone had a place, including the Eunuchs, the slaves, the concubines … this is order, this is good. Or is it?
A friend and I were having coffee and chatting about racism. She said to me that racism, sexism, etc. is all about people challenging their “place” in society. When the people in the privileged position are challenged by those who are lower in the pecking order, they don’t like it. Who would? The hateful political opposition to President Obama, many point out, is race- and place- related. It is brought on by the blatant challenge a black president has on the privileged place of white males in our culture.
Well, Esther knew her place — she was an orphan, a woman, and a hostage of the King. She obeyed Mordecai when he told her not to let anyone know about her Jewish heritage. She listened to the counsel of Hegai, the King’s Eunuch. She did all she could to “please” the King. And, even, when she dared approach the King without him summoning her, she did so with all of the reverence you’d expect from a servant to her lord. She knew her place. She knew the risk she was taking on behalf of her people. The risk was so great, in fact, that she asked her family and inner circle to offer three days of prayer and fasting on her behalf. Their prayer and fasting wasn’t in reverence to the King, but in supplication to God. Esther knew, if she came out of this with her life, it wasn’t because of her worthiness, it was God’s miracle.
It was a miracle. Not only was she spared her life, but she was offered all of Haman’s estate. This is the “Good News” time and time again. That God is in the place of the lowly, the peasants, the exiles, the shepherds, the poor, the Samaritan, the lepers, the blind, the tax collector, the woman, the prostitute, the slave … that God loves them, and God upholds them. In fact, Jesus says, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” (If Haman being impaled on his own pole isn’t an example of the first becoming last, I don’t know what is)
For those of us in the more privileged classes of our own society … it can be a difficult message to hear. We are not in these places because God loves us more, or values us more. We are here to listen to the Word of God and to be ready to hear the cries of the oppressed. We are placed here “for such a time as this.” To help up end the “order” of society and take risks for justice. For what does the Lord require of us? To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)