Reflection: Esther, like most of the Bible, is a story. It is meant to be heard, first and foremost as a story. It invites us to enter the story world and let it stretch our imaginations, unsettle, disturb, and change us. Only then should we turn to the questions of discipleship: In times like these, what does God ask of us? In times like these, how are we to live? In times like these, what does God want for the world?
The scroll of Esther is read or performed twice during the annual Jewish festival of Purim. To begin our series on Esther, we invite you to borrow this tradition and listen to the book of Esther from beginning to end. You can find a link to an audio Bible here.
As we begin this new devotional series, a word of warning: much of Esther deals with R-rated themes. Some readers may find these devotions confronting.
Many of us are familiar only with the positive, uplifting aspects of Esther and haven’t explored the book’s darker more troubling side. This fits with wider patterns of reading that avoid violent or tragic parts of the Bible. This is a problem. If we cut all the horror out of the Bible, we deprive ourselves of biblical resources desperately needed to face horror today. If we cut all the unresolved pain and injustice out of the Bible, we close its pages to those whose lives are most scarred by pain and injustice. If we insist on happy endings, we deny the experience of those for whom there are no happy endings in this life. Only when we engage the whole story, do we enable those who most need good news to find their place in the story and hear God’s Word speak into their lives.
To open the book of Esther is to enter the royal citadel of Susa where the wealth and splendour of the Persian Empire are on display. It is to be surrounded by opulence, extravagance and overindulgence. Rivers of wine flow and are drunk without restraint. But life in the royal citadel is not as pretty as it looks. Complex back-stories connect the glittering citadel and each of its inhabitants to the world outside.
In Hebrew, the opening phrase of the book can be pronounced in two ways, translating either ‘Now it came to pass in the days of’ or ‘There was woe in the days of.’ Spare a thought for those who prepared royal banquets, served, and cleaned up afterwards. What were their stories, their woes?
Imagine you are a royal slave. How do you feel about this display of wealth and excessive consumption?
Engaging our world: What do you know about the human and ecological consequences of today’s global social and economic arrangements?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, in your kingdom “the first will be last, and the last will be first.” Give us eyes to see through the glamour and spin to discern what is really going on. Give us strength to resist the temptations of luxury and wealth, and “put the last first”. Amen.