Every Man a King?

Scripture Focus: Esther 1.22
He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household.

Reflection: Every Man a King?
By John Tillman

It is quite fitting that a book titled for it’s heroine, Esther, begins with a tale of fragile male ego. In what amounts to not answering her husband’s Facebook event invite, Vashti commits what, to the assembled, powerful men of the land was a grievous wrong. She says, “no.”

What follows is what typically follows after a bruised male ego—overreaction leading eventually to violence. In any era, including our own, powerful men being snubbed at a party can set off a chain of events that threatens an entire population, but in the ancient world of monarchs it was inevitable.

Xerxes, who on the outside seems the most powerful person in the story, is shown in many ways to be the weakest. He is ruler of half the known land mass of the world, but spends the entire narrative beset by and tied up in, reactionary (and irreversible) laws. Some of them of his own making.

Xerxes is obsessed with what happens to himself. His ego can’t tolerate being disobeyed in even the slightest way. When snubbed, he looks to legislation rather than to relationships as both punishment and final solution.

The idea of “every man a king” does not come exclusively from this verse, but it is an early iteration of the concept and a desperate attempt by men to maintain ungodly power over women who are, together with men, bearers of the image of God.

The legislation that ends Chapter one is the desperate shutting of the door on an already empty barn. It is descriptive—telling us of the foolish actions of men. It is not prescriptive—telling us how men should deal with women. The authors of the “every man a king” law are the bumbling fools of the story, not the heroine.

And the next step taken, to replace Vashti, is the first step in bringing to power a woman who will do something more unusual than refuse the king’s presence. Esther will command Xerxes attention instead. She will condemn to death men close to him. She will issue commands to the leaders of his people and change the course of history.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Esther 1 (Listen -4:14)
Acts 24 (Listen -4:11)

This Weekend’s Readings
Esther 2 (Listen -4:31), Acts 25 (Listen -4:40)
Esther 3 (Listen -3:12), Acts 26 (Listen -5:17)

Read more about Faith Requires Humility
One reason faith is so difficult for today’s culture is that we devalue humility. And faith cannot exist without humility.

Read more about Humble, Welcoming Servants :: A Guided Prayer
We confess to you, Lord…Just like the twelve…we are concerned about being number one. We argue and attempt to dominate one another.

Forward-Looking Remembering

Scripture: Esther 9:20-22
Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually… the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and… when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

Reflection: Forward-Looking Remembering
By Jon Polk

A visit to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is a testament to the significant power of memory. In the heart of the United States’ capital are numerous monuments dedicated to the memory of great historical figures – Lincoln, Washington, King and others – and significant human sorrows – World War II, the Vietnam War, the Holocaust. Standing in front of the impressive white marble statue of the great American president Abraham Lincoln, one cannot help but be overwhelmed with a sense of history that goes far beyond the memory of personal life experiences.

Many of us have our own memorials in a prominent place in our home: the refrigerator door. There on that sleek magnetic surface, the faces of family and friends stare back at us from treasured moments that have come and gone. There, kindergarten artwork is treated like a rare, priceless Van Gogh. There we find notes and cards that remind us of the ones we love.

At the conclusion of the story of Esther, her uncle Mordecai instructs the Jews to annually celebrate by remembering the attempted genocide and their escape from it. This inaugurates the Jewish Festival of Purim, a memorial of the time when sorrow turned to joy and mourning to celebration.

Remembering is not “living in the past” or “longing for the good ole days,” instead it informs our hope for a future that God has for us. At Purim, the Jews were to look back to the story of Esther and their deliverance in order to look forward to find a hope for their future. This remembering caused them to not only feast and celebrate, but also to give gifts to the poor. Memory of God’s favor on us should compel us to share that same grace with others.

It is often noted that Esther is the one book in the Bible where God is not specifically mentioned. Reading the story with the benefit of hindsight reveals that God was indeed present and working behind the scenes.

We would be wise to regularly recall God’s intervention and provision in our own lives, giving thanks and praise for how God has delivered us and cared for us, especially in those times when we may have not been able to immediately recognize his presence.

What spiritual memories are we hanging on the refrigerator doors of our hearts that we look to regularly for hope and to say, “Thanks be to God”?

The Greeting
Your testimonies are very sure, and holiness adorns your house, O Lord, forever and for evermore. — Psalm 62.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Esther 9 (Listen – 5:34)
Romans 4 (Listen – 4:08)

Cringing at Culture or at Christ?

Scripture: Esther 8.3
Esther again pleaded with the king, falling at his feet and weeping. She begged him to put an end to the evil plan of Haman the Agagite, which he had devised against the Jews.

Reflection: Cringing at Culture or at Christ?
By John Tillman

You’d be hard pressed to find a Christian or Jew who would express dislike for Esther. However, depending on your political/philosophical bent there are aspects of her story that make one cringe.

Some cringe when Esther is supplicative and submissive—submitting to being one of a harem of wives, throwing herself into servile hospitality and beauty as strategy, and finally, pleading and begging, apologetically before the king, her husband. We want her, instead, to be a modern, powerful, assertive woman.

Some cringe when Esther is powerful and assertive—she is unashamed of her sexuality and uses the power of beauty and seduction, she writes law for a nation, she orders the death of her enemies, she tells the king what to do. We want her, instead, to be a demure princess so we can dress up our daughters like her.

Esther’s culture specifically and biblical culture in general is so foreign to us that we often fail to understand it. Even with years of study and knowledge of cultural facts, we can’t fully understand what living in that culture was like. When we don’t understand biblical culture, we tend to assume the lesson God has for us is that our culture is better. This is always the wrong lesson. Always.

But it is more than just Esther’s brokenness, or that of her culture, that makes us uncomfortable. It is the image of God in her. Esther, like any of us, does not carry the image of God perfectly. But the image of God does make us uncomfortable—even in Christ, the one perfect image of God.

We, like Peter, are uncomfortable with the kneeling, submissive Christ who serves us. We also, like the Pharisees, are uncomfortable with the powerful Christ of Heaven, as described by Stephen before his martyrdom.

Yet Christ is both. And we must accept him completely. And Esther is both. And she deserves to be seen fully. And as we attempt to manifest Christ in our world and to our culture, we must allow the Holy Spirit to bring out in us the fullest picture of who God is.

It is healthy for us to remember that what we admire in biblical heroes and heroines came to them from God. We need not emulate the heroes so much as we need to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, drawing out of us the shining vestiges of God’s image that are needed.

The Request for Presence
Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding, according to your word. — Psalm 119.169

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Esther 8 (Listen – 3:41)
Romans 3 (Listen – 4:30)

Racism Wears a Mask

Scripture: Esther 7.5-6
King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?” Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

Reflection: Racism Wears a Mask
By John Tillman

When Xerxes asks “Who is he?” we sit in a satisfying dramatic tension. We can’t wait for the villain to be revealed. But the answer is not quite as clear cut as it may seem.

Esther wisely responded to the king’s question by pointing at Haman as the man responsible. But as John Wesley points out in his notes on Esther, the queen could easily have answered the question of Xerxes by saying, “It was you, King! You signed the law to eradicate my people! You accepted payment for our murder! You not only allowed this to happen, but profited from it!”

We like to put Haman on a shelf with Hitler as punching bags from a bygone era. By their example we smugly speak of how far we have come. But our racism, just like Haman’s and the king’s, always claims to be about something else.

It is rare that a person will admit, even to themselves, that they act out of racism directly. Racism always wears a mask. Prejudice always pleads statistics. Segregation always pleads danger. Oppression always pleads economics. Eugenics always pleads scientific data.

Even if we are not like Haman, many of us are like Xerxes and like the government officials. We have allowed racism to rise wearing a mask decorated with other concerns. In our government. In our businesses. Even in our churches. Even if we have not acted directly against minorities, we have passively benefited from the actions of others who have.

Putting ourselves in the shoes of King Xerxes, the best thing we can plead is ignorance and incompetence. And the best thing we can do is use our enormous power and privilege to aid those we previously ignored and to save those whose oppression we profit from.

Racism is not just an individual crime or action, it is an unseen burden we are forced to carry by our culture and our history. The church was the first entity in history to directly attack racism and the Holy Spirit is the only way its burden can truly be put down.

May we abandon our protestations of being innocent of racism. May we instead cling to Christ, whose Holy Spirit is the only hope and source of unity.

The Request for Presence
Open my eyes, that I may see the wonders of your law. — Psalm 119.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Esther 7 (Listen – 2:08)
Romans 2 (Listen – 4:13)

Degrading Each Other

Scripture: Romans 1.24
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

Everybody’s got a hungry heart. — Bruce Springsteen

Reflection: Degrading Each Other
By John Tillman

God’s wrath is often framed as a response to offenses committed by men and women against God. In this framing, God is the one harmed and the one seeking vengeance. Moderns contemplating this view have a hard time reconciling it. God seems selfish, vindictive, petty, and small.

It’s not that this framing of God’s wrath is inaccurate as much as it is woefully incomplete. The missing component is that God is wrathful not for what we have done to him directly, but for what we have done to each other.

We can’t reach God to harm him and sin against him, so instead we attack God through harming and degrading others made in his image. God’s wrath is seated not in selfish vengeance against his enemies but in justice for those he loves.

You have done it unto me.

Whether we help or harm others, Jesus steps into the interaction. He places himself into the bodies and the pain and the suffering of the people we harm every day—whether directly, indirectly, by our actions, or by our inactions. It is a shocking claim.

As the #MeToo movement sweeps around the world, Jesus stands with the victims, claiming their pain as his own, identifying with their feelings of powerlessness, of isolation, and of being silenced for so long.

Christianity teaches that no matter what our lusts are, they are not outside of our control. Sexual behavior is under the control of our will and, therefore, regardless of state of mind, location, previous behavior, the influence of alcohol or drugs, or even the state of dress of another person, we are responsible that we not “wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister” in this matter.

No environment, from Hollywood offices to the sanctuaries of our churches is untouched by the culture of degrading sexual manipulation and abuse. Christians have an opportunity to drop partisan loyalty, abandon “what-aboutism,” and step into this cultural problem with the perspective of the Gospel.

Christians can uniquely offer condemnation for abusive actions and the systems which allowed them, while offering compassion and protection for victims, and even forgiveness and redemption (though not necessarily reinstatement) for perpetrators.

The Morning Psalm
May god be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Esther 6 (Listen – 2:40)
Romans 1 (Listen – 5:02)

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