Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Risks We Can Take
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
The theme of God’s people struggling to survive in a sophisticated, alien culture appears throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. This theme is central to the Book of Esther, which supplies today’s first reading.
Today is the only Sunday in our three-year cycle of readings when we hear from this brief book. Thus I will draw your attention to a key verse in Esther, even though it does not appear in what we heard read this morning.
The verse I have in mind comes from the middle of the book. Mordecai, a Jew living in the Persian capital of Susa, is addressing his kinswoman Esther, who has become the queen.
He sends word to her, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
“Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” I offer this verse for your consideration, not simply because it is a key to the story of Esther, but because it is a key to the story of each of us, and to the story of every one of the people of God.
The Book of Esther is brief, only ten chapters, 2 and is lively, engaging literature. Read it for yourself, and you will delight in its twists and turns.
Very briefly the plot is this.
Mordecai, a Jew at the court of King Ahasuerus, reveals a plot to kill the king, but is left unrewarded. The king has to choose a new queen, and Mordecai arranges to have her kinswoman Esther selected. She becomes the king’s favorite.
Esther learns of a plot to destroy all the Jews in the empire. It is the work of Haman, the prime minister, who bears a grudge against Mordecai.
One night the king remembers that he has done nothing to honor Mordecai for saving his life. He asks Haman what should be done for the man the king wishes to honor. Haman thinks he is that man, so he proposes lavish compensation, but is humiliated when Mordecai receives the honors.
Moreover, Esther reveals to the king that Haman has already issued a decree for the slaughter of the Jews. Haman pleads his case dramatically
before Queen Esther, but the king assumes he is attacking her, and so orders him hanged on the huge scaffold that Haman had built for Mordecai.
Esther then obtains a royal decree allowing the Jews to defend themselves. They do so, and Mordecai and Esther proclaim that day as a great festival for the Jews. 3 This story serves as the basis for the Jewish feast of Purim where the story is often presented as a play and a carnival atmosphere prevails.
So where does that key verse fit in, when Mordecai tells Esther, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this”?
Esther finds out about Haman’s decree for the destruction of the Jews and the need for her to entreat the king on behalf of her people. The tension in the story rises sharply when we learn that Esther, even though she is the queen, is still subject to a law that prohibits anyone from approaching the king without being summoned. Anyone who comes into the royal presence without permission is to be put to death. And, as Esther herself notes,
she has not been called into the royal presence for thirty days.
Mordecai’s response to Esther amounts to a challenge. He sends her this message:
“Do not think that in the king’s palace
you will escape
any more than all the other Jews.
For if you keep silence at such a time as this,
relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews
from another quarter,
but you and your father’s family will perish.
Perhaps you have come to royal dignity
for just such a time as this.” 4
What we have here is an old story, but it is more than just an old story. It is somehow the Word of the Lord to God’s people today.
For the truth is, each one of us has come to royal dignity. Esther came to hers by marriage to King Ahasuerus of Persia. Each one of us came to our royal dignity through our Holy Baptism, by which we became God’s child and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
So each of us arrives at a moment, perhaps many moments, when we face some threatening decision that requires holy courage on our part, a decision that will make a world of difference not only to us, but to people around us.
Let me tell you of three people who arrived at such moments and acted with holy courage. Each of them appears on the Episcopal Church’s calendar of the saints. 5
• Born in Denmark in 1849, Jacob Riis arrived in New York City as a young man among the multitudes of immigrants flooding the city in search of work. For seven years he lived on the brink of poverty, and on several occasions spent the night in jail when he was without money.
In 1874 he took a job as a reporter, eventually bought a debt-ridden newspaper, and transformed it in short order into a crusading reform journal that was making a profit. After selling that paper, he continued as a journalist, exposing the wretched circumstances of the slums and campaigning for reform. He became a firm opponent of greedy landlords, corrupt politicians, and inertia in state government.
In 1890, his investigative work was published in How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York. Illustrated with line drawings based on Riis’s photos the book graphically described to affluent Americans the wretchedness of slum life, and provoked the first attempts
at remedial legislation. 6
Supporting the cause of those in dire need, exposing poverty and injustice, and awakening the conscience of a nation–it was for countless moments of decision throughout his life that Jacob Riis had come to royal dignity as a child of God.
• Toyohiko Kagawa, born in 1888, was a Japanese Christian who underwent a dramatic conversion experience at the age of fifteen. He became an evangelist, a pacifist, and an advocate of social change, thus gaining a whole host of opponents.
Following theological study in Japan and the United States, he sought to apply Christ’s teachings to the poor, and so lived for much of his early adulthood in a six foot square windowless shed in the slums. A skilled organizer, he helped found trade unions and cooperatives. Trade unions were forbidden at the time, and Kagawa was twice imprisoned. In 1940 he was arrested for publicly apologizing to the people of China for Japan’s invasion of their country.
Although Kagawa was under police surveillance much of his life, the Japanese government called on him to organize the rebuilding of Tokyo after a 1923 earthquake, and again at the end of World War II to serve as head of the country’s social welfare program.
Widely known as a pacifist and social reformer, Kagawa saw himself first of all as an evangelist. “Christ alone can make all things new,” he said. “The spirit of Christ must be the soul of all real social reconstruction.” 7
It was for his persistent witness to Christ at great personal cost and in the face of widespread opposition from his society that Toyohiko Kagawa had come to royal dignity as a child of God.
• In 1909, Lillian Trasher broke off her engagement to a man she loved to answer a call to serve as a missionary. She opened her Bible and came upon a verse mentioning Egypt. 8 On that basis she went to Egypt, settling in a village near the Nile River.
Shortly after her arrival, she was called to the bedside of a dying mother who asked her to care for her malnourished baby. Lillian took the child home,
but as a result of the baby’s incessant crying throughout twelve days and nights her supervisor told her to take the child elsewhere.
There was no other place. So Lillian left with the baby. She managed to get just enough to live on by begging for food and clothes.
Over time, the scorn and ridicule of the local people turned into admiration for her persistence and stamina. Gradually support came from a variety of directions. Children kept arriving too. By 1915, there were fifty children. By the time of her death in 1961, she counted herself blessed to look into the faces of twelve hundred children. The Lillian Trasher Orphanage continues on. To date it has cared for twenty thousand children.
It was to help that first baby and all the thousands of subsequent orphans to whom she devoted her life that Lillian Trasher had come to royal dignity
as a child of God.
Each of us has our opportunities. They appear at home, at work, at church, in community service and public citizenship, and through every field of endeavor. No one is left without an opportunity. These moments are as diverse as those that appeared to Queen Esther, Jacob Riis, Toyohiko Kagawa, and Lillian Trasher. Each moment of opportunity is lodged somehow in the thick fabric of a distinct life and a unique set of circumstances. 9
There are risks we can take. By the grace of God, we take them. These risks threaten us with death in one form or another. They promise the world
an unexpected resurrection.
1. Esther 4:14.
2. The Additions to Esther in the Apocrypha provide further material.
3. This summary is based on one that appears in The Collegeville Bible Commentary (Liturgical Press, 1989), 823.
4. Esther 4:13-14.
5. Jacob Riis on July 2, Toyohiko Kagawa on April 23, and Lillian Trasher on December 19.
6. Alden Whitman, ed., American Reformers (H. W. Wilson Company, 1985), 689-91.
7. Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (Church Publishing, 2010), 340.
8. Acts 7:34
9. G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (Church Publishing, 2006), 115-16.
Copyright 2015, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.