The text in the book of Esther may be rarely encountered and unfamiliar to our ears, but the relevance of this book to our modern world should not be overlooked.
In the book, we are introduced to an orphaned Jewish girl – Esther – who is being raised by her cousin, Mordecai, as his own daughter. We suspect that the family settled in Persia following the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people. It appears that a good number of those Jews resettled in Persia and began making a new home in this foreign land – much as Abraham’s descendants (Jacob’s family) made a new home in Egypt when they were forced from their own land by drought.
Despite living in this strange place, these settlers try to hold on to as much of their former life and traditions as possible. But when Mordecai learns that King Ahasuerus has deposed Queen Vashti and is looking for another queen, he cleverly sends the lovely Esther to join the group of young maidens seeking the King’s favor. Esther is doing something known as “passing.” She is a Jew, but she has sufficiently assimilated into the ways of her new home and is able to pass for a Persian woman. Among the fair maidens brought to the king, it is Esther who rises to the top with the King choosing her to be his new queen –not knowing her true identity.
The king loved Esther, and her life of royal privilege in the palace was good. However, unrest broke out in the quarter where her fellow Jews had made their home. One of the king’s trusted advisers was angered and it is her own cousin, Mordecai, who has come under fire. The Jewish people who worshipped Yahweh and won’t bow down to worship Ahasuerus have angered his royal cabinet and his chief lieutenant plans to kill all of the Jews in Persia. Mordecai sends word to Esther of the plan and warns her that her royal privilege notwithstanding, she, too, will lose her life if all of her people are killed. There is only one hope: that Esther, who is beloved by her king, can use her voice and her position to ask for the lives of all of her people. Perhaps, Mordecai tells her, it is for just such a time as this that she has come to such a royal position.
A frightened Esther, who risks identifying herself, decides to seek an audience with the king to plead for the lives of her people. The king spares them.
Surely, Esther must never have imagined that the plight of her people who have taken refuge in Persia would come to this: a threat of extinguishment, because they worshipped Yahweh, because her own cousin Mordecai refused to recognize any other god. Surely, Esther must never have imagined that she might be called upon to speak on behalf of her people – to reveal the very identity that she had so carefully hidden in order to become queen in the first place. Surely, Esther must never have imagined that she would need to use the power and authority that came with her privilege to save those with whom she no longer identified nor lived in community.
There may be moments or even days in which we know and identify with Esther’s plight better than we want to admit – assimilating to the culture around us and “passing” among others who don’t share our beliefs. We may hide our true identity as followers of Christ behind our privilege and position, living in silence while our own – our “people,” our sisters and brothers made in the image and likeness of God – live under the threat of annihilation, be it poverty, incarceration, joblessness, homelessness, sickness, or racial and ethnic prejudice. How many times might our voices, our actions, our courage, make a difference yet we stop short, in fear of what will become of us if we dare to stand up, to speak out?
We are guided by a great cloud of witnesses who were called upon to stand for what they believed: a Delaware Quaker named Thomas Garrett, who made his own home a stop on the Underground Railroad and assisted more than 2,700 enslaved persons to freedom; a Polish nurse named Irena Sendler, who begged Jewish parents in ghettos to allow her to smuggle their children out to safety, sparing more than 600 children from death in Polish death camps; and Abon and Lucille Bridges, parents of six-year-old Ruby Bridges, who would send their child to the Franz Elementary School in New Orleans, surrounded by federal marshals amidst an angry, violent mob because they believed in the right of a child to attend school – no matter the color of her skin – was worth the fight.
For just such a time to save her people, Esther was elevated to a place of privilege and given a voice. It is perhaps for just such a time as this that God equips us. It is perhaps for just such a time as this that God rouses us, shakes us out of our complacency and resets our compass. It is perhaps for just such a time as this that God calls us. In a world in which intolerance, hatred and violence have become too quick a response, in a world in which we see one another as “threat” and not as “neighbor”, in a world in which injustice has become a fact of life for far too many, we, too, are called for just such a time as this. Perhaps we are called to remove the cloak of assimilation and privilege in which we might enshroud ourselves and use our voices to speak out for the voiceless, our hands to support the marginalized and our bodies to shield those who are assaulted by hurtful words and actions.
We, too, are situated at just the right place to accomplish God’s work in the world, for just such a time as this.
Image credit: © Pamela Reynoso