July 25, 2019

July 25, 2019

July 25, 2019
Esther 3:1-2
by Will Shelton
Pastor of First UMC (Pulaski, VA)
New River District

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and set his seat above all the officials who were with him. 2 And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and did obeisance to Haman; for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or do obeisance. – Esther 3:1-2 (NRSV)

I would imagine Mordecai saw this going differently in his head.

“These things” the text refers to are the events at the end of chapter two: Mordecai saves the king from an assassination plot. The whole event gets recorded “in the book of the annals in the presence of the king.” Sounds important!

Then the big promotion goes to…Haman. Not Mordecai.

Now Mordecai not only gets to see Haman on a regular basis but is expected to bow down and defer to him out of respect.

If he is at all like us, how many times did Mordecai go home and think about all the things he’d really like to say to Haman, or the king?

The new number two is an easy character to dislike even before his genocidal tendencies are revealed. As Sidnie White Crawford points out in her commentary on Esther, Haman gets furious over Mordecai’s refusal to bow…even though he doesn’t notice Mordecai isn’t bowing until the other servants point it out to him.

There is so much of our day-to-day humanity in this passage: getting passed over, co-workers stirring the pot, or only being outraged by something right in front of our face after someone else points it out to us. Perhaps some day-to-day divinity is available in what Mordecai chooses not to do.

Whatever conversations he’s playing out in his head, the choice Mordecai makes is a simple one: he will not bow. He also will not speak to/cuss out/punch Haman in the face when he walks by. No matter how many times he’s fantasized about what he’d really like to say, it’s his conviction that keeps him from bowing, and his wisdom that keeps him from doing anything else.

I think this Old Testament story demonstrates the heart of New Testament ideas we love in theory but find so difficult in practice: harnessed strength, turning the other cheek, and a meekness that inherits the earth. For Mordecai, and for us, sometimes our greatest strength comes via what we don’t say.

It’s not an easy choice, and it doesn’t create an easy set of consequences. Mordecai could go out in a blaze of glory, risking his employment and perhaps his life for fifteen seconds of fame at Haman’s expense. Instead, guided by his faith, he simply chooses not to bow. It is a far more elegant display, but it also puts far more lives in danger. The stakes in this story escalate in a hurry.

But even knowing what’s to come as we read this passage, Mordecai’s initial choice earns our respect. Can we say the same about the things we swear we’d say to someone if we ever got the chance?

Mordecai gets that chance on a regular basis. Maybe you do too. In those moments, may God help us stand. May God harness our strength to restrain the best/worst we’ve imagined saying to someone else. And may our faith have the clearest voice of all.