The readings for the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost tell just a little of the story of Esther. They leave a whole lot out.
Esther has become difficult to read. Her story makes me angry and afraid. We read it like a fairytale. But like so many fairytales, it teems with themes of horror dressed up in royal satin and silk.
Esther was an orphan, given into the mercy of her uncle Mordecai. When the soldiers came to town, he failed to protect her, failed to hide her in the cellar, defend her with his body. He let them take her, take her to the harem of the king, where the eunuch took a liking to her. He gave her cosmetics. He taught her the tricks that would make the king like her. He groomed her for the royal bed.
Mordecai followed her. He saw that she could become his protector, and she was willing. Esther always did the right thing: obedient to her uncle, obedient to the eunuch, obedient to God, obedient to the king, her eyes downcast and her body compliant. She saved the people, no doubt of that. She was Haman’s downfall.
But none of the blood – none of their blood could wash away the stain on the sheets from a young girl, trafficked.
If she were alive today, and able to get away, Esther might sit outside the United Nations, holding a placard with a picture of her and the king smiling at a party, the wine flowing, her own face laughing, with the legend, #MeToo. She would watch the world leaders passing by, challenging them to censure one of their own.
She would stand outside the Capitol, piercing the consciences of congressmen and senators with her penetrating gaze.
She would darken the doorways of churches, interrupting sermons with her story: “Where was your God?” she would cry.
I will not tackle Esther from the pulpit this Sunday, for fear that my words might conjure her to appear in the aisle, to call me out.
Image: Queen Esther, by Edwin Long [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The theme for Education for Ministry this year is Living Faithfully in a Multicultural World, and The Hebrew Bible: Feminist and Intersectional Perspectives by Gale A. Yee has been added to the first year texts. Reading Yee prepared me to appreciate this essay even more than I already would have. Thank you so much for this.
yes, thank you!