|Esther C:12, 14-16,
Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 7-8
“How much more will your heavenly Father give…”
This is a familiar passage in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus in speaking to his disciples tells them they have only to ask, seek and knock and they will be heard and answered. The tone is kind, gentle, familiar. Jesus is speaking with his beloved and faithful followers. Naturally, the disciples will not be denied. But what about me? Am I included in this loving encouraging message?
The first reading, the story of Esther is a very different reading. Esther, one of the few named women in scripture, is a Jewish woman married to a non-Jew and living in a Gentile community. She is the Queen of the Persian King Ahasuerus. She came to her queenly status by virtue of her body and her wits. She used both to her advantage. She is deemed a heroine by virtue of the fact that she was able to foil a plot to slaughter all the Jews in the Persian empire. There has been much discussion among biblical scholars about this book. It was one of the last books to be included in the canon of sacred literature. It is thought that in the original story of Esther, the name of “God” did not appear at all and Esther did not turn to God in prayer. Why then was she named when so many women in scripture go nameless and why was her story included?
Biblical scholars tell us that Esther had been among the king’s harem. She was used to living by her wits. She was not a prayerful woman. She did what she had to do in order to live comfortably and to get ahead in her world. Some speculate that if her story was to be included in sacred scripture, she would have to be fixed up a bit, made more presentable, given a religious nature. Prayers were added to make her a more worthy figure. A true Jewish heroine could not at the same time be a named conniving harlot. Or could she? What about Esther made her so important, so different as to be included in scripture? And what is the good news she brings for us today?
Once again in scripture we witness the loving, liberating faithfulness of the Lord and the call to ministry and full liberation. The Spirit can and does work through the seemingly lowest and least worthy – even a woman from a king’s harem. As a literary figure, to be believable Esther must be true to her nature. She was who she was. However, at some point Esther responded to the desires of the Spirit within her. She experienced a turn of heart. It was the movement of the Spirit within her, not her own initiative that liberated her and the Jewish people. Once again we see that the Spirit meets us where we are, in the midst of the stuff, chaos and foulness of our lives. Ironically, it is the Spirit asking, knocking and seeking. Esther, finally, responds to the voice, the desire of the Spirit within. This is the ever-present irony of scripture. This is the good news that Esther brings to us today. All of us are worthy of God’s love and attention. God has desires for each one of us. And why was she named when other women are nameless in scripture? It is not a question of being worthy in the eyes of God. It is about unworthiness, vulnerability and the desires of the Spirit. More probable the readers were moved to some degree of recognition of her worthiness as a reflection of God’s love and faithfulness.
This time of Lent calls me to reflect on the areas of my life that hold me captive. What in my life is Jesus attempting to bless and bring into the liberating light of his healing love? How am I being called to minister to others? What are Jesus’ desires for me?
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