In today’s first reading Esther’s predicament is somewhat paradigmatic of our own existential situation in God’s presence, a situation that blends our limited human self-sufficiency with our radical self-insufficiency before God. Esther had been elevated to the rank of queen and as such she had some clear power in that particular sphere. Yet, when the very survival of her people —and potentially her own survival— in the face of bigoted hatred is at stake, she recognizes before God her basic powerlessness.
You, who are reading these lines on the web, have a clear degree of self-sufficiency in the very ability to use this medium. We also have other areas of self-sufficiency: financial, educational, social... Yet my daily experience in the hospital keeps reminding me that there are in our lives domains of clear self-insufficiency, as both patients and their families feel so powerless in the face of a health crisis —indeed so do the doctors at times and we chaplains as well.
Esther teaches us not to let our status or our own areas of self-sufficiency obscure our radical self-insufficiency before God. As developments in our lives force us to recognize that insufficiency, Esther also teaches us to have recourse to God with open-ended hope rather than with concrete expectations of specific solutions. It is very much the attitude encouraged by Jesus: “unless you become like children...” [Mt. 18:3], an injunction not about being childish, but about being childlike in recognition of our own powerlessness and in trust of God’s power and love.
Clearly not an attitude of resignation, but rather a re-discovery that the ultimate source of our strength lies not within ourselves, but with the Lord who empowers us. It is Paul’s awareness that “It is when I am weak that I am strong” [2Cor. 12:15] with the result that “There is nothing I will not dare in the strength of the One who gives me strength” [Phil. 4:12].
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