Wherever We Are

Wherever We Are

When we read the story of Esther, we’re seeing the will of God find its way into the world through those with limited power. Ahasuerus and Haman have unlimited power, but it is Esther and Mordecai – those who mourn, those who feel out of place, those who take risks – who carry out justice and experience victory. That being said, by the end of the story, Mordecai’s power isn’t so limited anymore. “Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was powerful among the Jews and popular with his many kindred, for he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his descendants.” (Esther 10:3)

I feel like something is missing here. From start to finish, the story of Esther makes no mention whatsoever of any desire to leave Persia and return to the homeland Israel. Psalm 137, written from within the Babylonian exile, cries out, “How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, taking place in the same period of Israel’s history as Esther, represent both human and divine initiatives to take exiles in Persia and return them to Israel in order to rebuild a sacred space and a faithful community, believing the greatest forms of faithfulness are not truly possible while living displaced lives in a pagan nation (that can turn murderously hostile on a dime!). There are plenty of Israelite voices from this period that express a need for the people of God to live, not in Babylon or Persia, but in Israel. And yet, Esther and Mordecai never voice this need or even think it. Apparently they are more than happy to remain in Persia and be faithful there. And the Bible offers no referee to step in and tell us whether Ezra and Nehemiah or Esther and Mordecai are right.

The story of Esther has brought us into conversation with Jesus’ Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (starting in Matthew 5). Now, with the end of Esther’s and Mordecai’s story, we also hear Jesus’ next part of the sermon: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights and lamp and puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand.” (Matthew 5:14-15) Of course light only means anything if it provides contrast. A flashlight in the middle of the day doesn’t count for much. Jesus pronounces that the faithful community will provide a steady source of light in a dark world, as visible as a city on a hill. Jesus recognizes that those who are his disciples will be working from a position of limited power, but that’s how the will of God finds its way into the world.

Perhaps Mordecai has found himself in too sweet a position to leave. Also, as of the ending of the story, Mordecai is actively using his power and popularity on behalf of others, not himself. He “intercedes” for his people, that is, he inserts himself into others’ misfortune and advocates for them rather than remaining in the comfort of some cozy throne room. He speaks words of wellbeing and peace (the Hebrew word there is “shalom”) to his kindred. When Mordecai opens his mouth, peace is what flows. Yes, he and Esther are remaining in a land of many unruly pagans. And in doing so, they are shining a light in a dark place.

God has us right where he wants us – in our neighborhoods, our places of work, our friendships, our schools. And he is more than able to intercede with us and through us, with light, with justice, with love, wherever we are.


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *