Today’s readings remind us of our dependence upon God. Often we do not realize this dependence until we have serious problems or needs. This does not surprise God, however, and we need to remember that God is faithful even when we are not so faithful.
I have always loved the story of Esther. The people of Israel are under the rule of the Persian king Ahasuerus. The king’s evil advisor, Haman, seemed to prosper in a position of authority in the king’s palace, but the rarefied air of power perhaps proved too much for Haman. His ego is bruised by the righteous Mordecai, and Haman sets in motion a series of events designed to harm the people of Israel. His plan fails to produce the evil he intended for Mordecai and his people. In fact, it ultimately helps them and causes his own demise. Don’t you love a happy ending?
The scriptures for today focus not on the ending, but on the process. When I encounter difficulty, I can identify with the angst in Esther’s prayer. Esther is afraid, and she does not know how things will turn out. However, she takes comfort in the stories she had heard from of old, which recount the faithfulness of God. She considered herself like an orphan with no other help – and she depended on God’s faithfulness to come through.
Of course, Esther would not know the end of the story until later. But her faith in God was not a blind leap or a shot in the dark. She knew God had a track record of helping people just like her. Somehow, it helps us to rehearse the truths we know in the face of difficult circumstances.
The Psalmist’s rehearsal of past victories presumably reflects a similar intent of reminding us all (including himself) that God is faithful and hears our prayers, desperate and anxious ones, too. The Gospel brings this message even closer to home, as Jesus explains that of course God will respond to his children. After all, even imperfect human parents don’t ignore their kids when they have needs.
It all sounds very easy to have faith after we know how the story turns out. It is not so easy in the midst of a trial. Because we don’t know the end of the story, it is impossible to evaluate the significance and impact of a stressful event at the time. Often we fail to appreciate the good that comes to us – whether in the form of a deeper faith or in a longer-term benefit – from events we would not choose for ourselves.
I think that makes another part of Esther’s story very important. Esther had the benefit of others joining with her in her prayer. Some were far off, including Mordecai and all of his people. Others – in this case her “handmaids” – were right there sharing her trouble with her. The counsel and consolation of others help us to pray and to not lose heart. Of course, we ultimately need the consolation that comes from God himself, but until that comes, we need our friends to act as His hands to hold us during difficult times.
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