Dare to Imagine

Dare to Imagine

The book of Esther opens up with king Ahasuerus throwing a palace-wide party that lasts 180 days (6 months!). And at the end of 180 days, the king opens the party up to the whole capitol city for an additional seven days. For Ahasuerus, this is what it means to have power, to do as one pleases for as long as one feels like. When he is “merry with wine” he decides to summon his wife, Vashti, simply for the sake of showing her off to his drinking buddies (“for she was fair to behold”). We never hear directly from Vashti herself, but she seems to think more of herself than just a trophy of a wife, so she refuses to appear, which enrages the king.

One of the main reasons someone ever thought the story of Esther was worth writing down in the first place is to serve as a critique of power, how those with the most of it should frankly have the least of it, how their power doesn’t make them as loved and secure as they wish. Ahasuerus’ power indeed has limits, and those limits are not far away where his military has no presence, but much closer to home, even within his own household. Vashti’s gentle but firm act of defiance launches the story forward as the king divorces her and eventually selects Esther as his new wife/queen.

In chapter 3 we meet Haman, the real villain of the story. For reasons we’re not told, Haman is thrust into the highest position of authority in the whole Persian empire, second only to the king himself. High on this power, Haman has the king sign into law that anyone in Haman’s presence must bow down to him. But Mordecai, Esther’s adoptive father, will not bow down. Mordecai has no bold and rebellious words to say about it. He simply seems to feel that Haman’s vanity is not worth bowing down to. Surely such allegiance and adoration ought to be reserved for something else.

Thus begins the story’s central conflict as Haman will not deal with Mordecai directly, but will enact a full-scale massacre of Mordecai’s people, the Jews, later in the story. Once again, it is an act of defiance that launches the story forward. And with both Vashti and Mordecai, this defiance is born out of imagination. Vashti dares to imagine that there is more to her than a trophy worth occasionally showing off. Mordecai dares to imagine that allegiance and adoration belong to someone much more important than Haman. And when Vashti dares to imagine, she reveals that Ahasuerus doesn’t have the power he thinks he has. When Mordecai dares to imagine, he reveals that Haman doesn’t have the power he thinks he has.

It’s as if the book of Esther is telling us a joke, that the power of kings is a silly, hollow sham. The New Testament insists over and over that Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of all the biblical stories that came before, which is to say that the old stories were giving us glimpses of something that eventually becomes crystal clear in Jesus. The story of Esther is giving us a glimpse of Jesus – real power is not found in those who can throw their authority around and bend others to their will. Real power is found in the one who empties himself on the cross and calls us to take up our cross as well. So let us join Vashti and Mordecai in imagining the world as it really is – in the hands of the God we meet in Jesus. And let us give our allegiance and adoration to no one else.


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