September 26, 2021
Clergy, Bridle Creek Circuit
New River District
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 (NIV)7 When the king and Haman came in for the banquet with Queen Esther, 2 the king said to her, “This is the second day we’ve met for wine. What is your wish, Queen Esther? I’ll give it to you. And what do you want? I’ll do anything—even give you half the kingdom.”
3 Queen Esther answered, “If I please the king, and if the king wishes, give me my life—that’s my wish—and the lives of my people too. That’s my desire. 4 We have been sold—I and my people—to be wiped out, killed, and destroyed. If we simply had been sold as male and female slaves, I would have said nothing. But no enemy can compensate the king for this kind of damage.”
5 King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is this person, and where is he? Who would dare do such a thing?”
6 Esther replied, “A man who hates, an enemy—this wicked Haman!” Haman was overcome with terror in the presence of the king and queen.
9 Harbona, one of the eunuchs serving the king, said, “Sir, look! There’s the stake that Haman made for Mordecai, the man who spoke up and did something good for the king. It’s standing at Haman’s house—seventy-five feet high.”
“Impale him on it!” the king ordered. 10 So they impaled Haman on the very pole that he had set up for Mordecai, and the king’s anger went away.
20 Mordecai wrote these things down and sent letters to all the Jews in all the provinces, both near and far, of King Ahasuerus. 21 He made it a rule that Jews keep the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as special days each and every year. 22 They are the days on which the Jews finally put to rest the troubles with their enemies. The month is the one when everything turned around for them from sadness to joy, and from sad, loud crying to a holiday. They are to make them days of feasts and joyous events, days to send food gifts to each other and money gifts to the poor.
Coming and Going
I set reminders on my phone as a way of keeping myself on task throughout the week. The problem is that sometimes I use abbreviations and forget what they stand for. The other morning I woke to a reminder that said: “Prepare for BS!” Not the most promising way to start the day. I was halfway through my coffee when I realized what BS I had to prepare for. “Bible Study,” I thought. “I’m leading Bible study tonight!”
As a Pastor, one of my favorite things to do is lead Bible study. I genuinely get a charge out of helping the faithful discover their own lives in the words of scripture. I love how the Bible comes alive for us as we read together and discover its precepts and its promises. I love encountering the living Word of God in its pages. I love it all.
But if I’m not careful, a little BS can work its way into Bible Study. ‘BS’ of course stands for “Bible Smoothing.” Bible Smoothing is when we make the Bible more presentable for our audience. We sand off all the jagged edges of scripture so it will be less offensive, less challenging, to the reader. We don’t willfully distort or misinterpret its words but we maybe “smooth it out a little.” Maybe we offer solutions for its difficulties a little too quickly, explain things away we don’t like, or fail to mention some of its complexities. We trek the Bible’s well-worn trails and don’t stray too far into the dangerous unknown.
One way we do this is by not letting it ask very hard questions of us. Our passage today from the book of Esther is the perfect example of a part of the Bible that often gets smoothed out. Most Bible Studies on the book of Esther focus on the virtues of Esther and Mordecai. We’re challenged to emulate Mordecai who kept his integrity and refused to bow before the powerful Haman even though it might mean his life. We’re challenged to speak up, like Esther, for those who can’t speak up for themselves. Such a Bible Study might lead to a lively discussion about whether God is calling us to ‘a time such as this’ in which we may be required to act with boldness.
Don’t get me wrong, that is a perfectly edifying discussion. Esther and Mordecai are definitely role models that all Christians should follow. But if we start and end there, we’re ignoring a big part of scripture’s challenge to us. The word of God is a double edged sword. It slices both ways. It doesn’t do to simply contemplate the ways in which we are like Mordecai and Esther and completely neglect the ways in which we are like Haman and Xerxes. That’s the part we’re tempted to sooth over.
Haman is history’s first recorded anti-semite. Haman’s response to not being bowed to by Mordecai was a toxic mix of jealousy and contempt that is all too familiar today. Like so many bigots, Haman dealt with his hatred toward Mordecai by blaming his entire race. He decided that the problem wasn’t just what he perceived as Mordecai’s insolence, it was all Jews everywhere. He was the first to reach this conclusion and he certainly wasn’t the last. His solution, to exterminate all the Jews in Persia, echoes far too often throughout history.
Can we really read the book of Esther without contemplating the Church’s fraught relationship with Judaism through the ages, or the holocaust, of the frightening rise of antisemitism in our own time? To do so would be total BS! So too would be to ignore the Haman lurking in each of our own hearts. What would happen in our Bible Studies if we seriously wrestled with the questions brought up by Haman. When have we, as a dominant majority, expected minorities to bow and scrape for us and resented them when they didn’t? When have made dangerous generalizations about an entire race of people? What cruel policies do we allow for them that we would never tolerate for our own people? Should the phrase ‘our own people’ even cross our minds in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
“But I’m not a Haman!” We’ll say, “I don’t have any hatred for anybody! Then are we a Xerxes? The amazing thing about the King of Persia in the book of Esther is how isolated he is from all the things that are going on. He gives Haman the authority to carry out genocide and then later is shocked by it. He’s too busy eating fruit and being fanned by cypress leaves to realize what injustices are being carried out in his Kingdom in his name. In what ways are we as citizens sheltered from the atrocities carried out in our own name? How do we enjoy our own privilege and turn a blind eye to the suffering of others? Who is in our court trying to tell us if only we would listen? Ask those questions at Bible Study and things might get dangerous really fast!
That’s the point. Real Bible Study is dangerous. The word of God is a double edge sword! It gets us coming and going! It challenges to stand when the rest of the world kneels and to raise our voice with courage and grace but it also challenges to acknowledge the sin lurking just outside our own tent. You know you’re really reading the Bible when it gets you both ways. It separates flesh and bone, soul and spirit, and leaves us forever changed. That’s why I love it so much. And why, despite my phone’s insistence, I’m going to do my best no to prepare any BS.