February 21, 2016 (Lent 2C)
The story reads like a melodrama. For hundreds of years, there was lots of argument about this story. Did it belong in the Bible or not? Some Jewish scholars loved it, but Martin Luther hated it and wished it didn’t exist. The story has some unique literary and theological features that suggest Luther might have had a point:
- The details of the plot seem exaggerated and the main characters aren’t developed very well, from a literary standpoint.
- Historical accuracy is questionable, at best.
- There’s enough sex and violence to make the story into a movie, but we tend to fast forward through those parts when we are in church.
- The actions of the characters do not reflect their faith so much as struggles about their ethnic identity.
- Most problematic of all, the story never mentions God by name.
- Neither is prayer or worship mentioned, though we can make some assumptions that prayer, at least, plays an important part in the climax of the story.
With all this going against it, we have to wonder how the story of Esther made it into the Bible at all. Yet, there it is. Accepted as the Word of the Lord, even though the Lord is never mentioned.
Some scholars insist that the story of Esther was made up to justify celebrating the Feast of Purim – or the feast of dice. It’s a major Jewish celebration, but it is not one of the feasts named in the Law of Moses. During Purim, people dress up in costumes, put on silly plays, and enjoy lots of food.
There is even a tradition that encourages drinking wine in excess, just as King Xerxes and his guests did at their feasts. But the humor and silliness of the celebration highlight an underlying seriousness. The story is about escaping death, after all.
Kathryn M. Schifferdecker writes, “Indeed, the joke goes that Jewish holidays can be summed up in this way: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat!”
So what does the story of Esther tell us about God and God’s plan to win his people back? The answer is found right in the middle of the story, in chapter four. Continue reading