First reading: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22; Ps. 124 Alternate: Num. 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Ps. 19:7-14 • James 5:13-20 • Mark 9:38-50
Divine election presupposes an inescapable responsibility. A story is told. “This happened in the days of Ahasuerus, who ruled over one hundred twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia” (Esther 1:1). Ahasuerus called Queen Vashti, “but Queen Vashti refused the king’s command” (1:12). Her refusal, if allowed, “would cause all women to look with contempt on their husbands” (1:17). Thus Vashti was never again to come before the king (1:19). Among the women in the king’s harem, a young virgin named Esther was brought before the king, and immediately “the king loved Esther more than all the other women” (2:17). The king did not know, however, that Esther and her cousin Mordecai, both of whom lived in the citadel of Susa, were descendents of those Jews whom King Nebuchadnezzar had carried away.
It came to pass that the king promoted Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite to the highest position, and all the people “bowed down and did obeisance to Haman” but “Mordecai did not bow down or do obeisance” (3:2). Mordecai’s punishment would not be enough! “Haman thought it beneath him to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, having been told who Mordecai’s people were, Haman plotted to destroy all the Jews” (3:6). With the king’s consent, an edict went forth to all the provinces, written in all the languages of the people, “giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children” (3:13). “When Mordecai learned all that had been done, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went throughout the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry” (4:1).
Queen Esther, hearing that Mordecai wore sackcloth and cried before the king’s gate, sent royal garments to Mordecai. But Mordecai refused all consolation, and reported to Esther, through Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, all that had happened. Finally, in the midpoint of this tale, a fearful providence shone directly upon Queen Esther. “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (4:14). Finally, through the brave intervention of Queen Esther, “the Jews gained relief from their enemies” (9:22).
The queen’s question must give us pause, a query at the center of any responsibility, great or small. Perhaps we have been placed where we are placed for just such a time as this!
Occasionally the burden of authority is shared. “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel” (Num. 11:16). “Are any among you sick? They should call the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). Even shared authority, however, will feel at times as if one is “salted with fire” (Mark 9:49). For there is no escaping the obligation to do what the occasion and providence require.
The call may be clear and welcome. It may be clear and fearful. It may not be clear at all, which is only to say that we are not always in a position to see and know with absolute certainty the moral and spiritual claims set upon us. Finally, we must trust that he who elects us calls us to an inescapable task.
Look It Up
Read Esther in a single sitting.
Think About It
Augustine: What is man that thou art mindful of him? A mere particle of creation! And yet you call out to each, and give to each an irrevocable gift. Ours is to take it and live up to it, God being our helper. Providence has placed us.