The Great Big Yes
Ah, Purim...it was years before I heard the story and learned, in context, of this holiday. Here is it, the whole megillat, the book that tells us the story of one woman's struggle to accept responsibility for a people's welfare at the risk of her own life and well-being. Esther is one serious hero to humanity, and yet not someone we as Christians hear about too very often. It's a shame, because her example of a life, and her struggle to do "the right thing" by her people should be a governor and guide for us. Particularly in a time in our culture, both locally and globally, when racial and sectarian differences are once again rising to the forefront of social discourse. As our shadow-selves come to light in the present controversies roiling our pop culture (that tempest in a teapot of celebrity-focused voyeurism) like celebrity-chef/Southern maven Paula Deen's fall from grace due to the fact that she is a revealed racist, we are seeing again how thin the membrane is between peace and violence when it comes to demarcating people and separating them due to race, creed or color. I think Esther continues to have a lot to teach us about how we need as individuals to step up, risk and speak to power--even when that power has the means, and sometimes even the motivation, to end us before justice is accomplished.
Paula Deen has a lot to learn from Esther...and I hope she does. Here is a young woman who has it all. She is queen not just because of her beauty, which according to the text is beyond parallel in the ancient world. She is queen because she is someone who knows how to make the most of what she is given. She is a young woman who embraces her situation, listens to the counsel of the wise and experienced, applies those lessons to her own considerable talents...and then once she has achieved success, focuses in our what undid those who went before and attempts to avoid making the same mistakes. If anyone can learn how to do that in live, then they will be more than a success. They will be truly great. "Don't mess up" is a great lesson....but what makes Esther shine? That once she does attain...she then mindfully--prayerfully--in the face of great danger to others makes the decision to risk herself in order that those others might be redeemed.
That's the key...to risk faithfully and completely our selves in faith and for the sake of justice. What does it mean to have everything and more, if we cannot then use that blessing so that others might know peace, justice...hope? What makes Esther stand out is that she is not David hiding in a cave (Psalm 1420, lamenting his fate and praying for God's deliverance so that God's mercy is revealed...nor is she Paul, holding up his sufferings as an apostle as a sign to the people of Corinth to shape up. She is a queen...a beauty, a charmer, a smart and successful woman making the most of an unjust system...and once secure she is willing to risk it because there is a plot brewing that will mean death for her people. She could save herself and stay comfortable...but instead she risks it all.
That is the lesson for us today...we find it easy to raise up heroes who risk their oppression and poverty, who have only their lives to give in order to fight injustice, right? People like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Jr....they all chose to confront a system that had already made them victims and had defined them as less-than-human. Their success means hope for us...and will continue to provoke people to stand up and speak when anyone's rights are at risk.
Esther, though...her witness should be an example to people in power, to people who too often are the agents of injustice and oppression-overt or covert, conscious or unconscious...that when it comes to doing the right thing, the time is now, the place is here. And the person(s) responsible for acting on behalf of the oppressed? ALL OF US.
It is never too late, until it is too late. Esther teaches us that who and what we are, and all that we have...all that is give to us is given so that we can act and strive for the justice that God yearns for in the world, for ALL people.
That is the GREAT BIG YES...to say "yes" to hope and to choose to act....