Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On Scripture: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

The king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, "What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled." Then Queen Esther answered, "If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me-- that is my petition-- and the lives of my people-- that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king." Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, "Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?" Esther said, "A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!" Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, "Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman's house, fifty cubits high." And the king said, "Hang him on that." So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

How does this text baffle me? How does it accuse me?

"Then the anger of the king abated." The people of Israel are saved by the pragmatic wisdom and righteousness of a Jewish queen. That is the story we often hear. It is the story I would like to read; I've always appreciated a good, strong woman. It is the story no doubt that many feminists would like to hear. But, make no mistake, the people of Israel are also saved by the wrath of a heathen tyrant-king who almost certainly gave more thought to increasing or maintaining power than he did the fate of the chosen people of God. Without one man's pure, incandescent rage, Israel dies and if God's story continues it must do so with a different people.

I don't much like anger. I spend a lot of my time not getting angry. I almost always shut my anger down as soon as I see it developing. That's what all the quiet meditation's for. And it's not that I'm afraid I'll do something terrible, like that I'll Hulk-out and destroy entire apartments or anything. It's that I'm afraid my anger will be ineffective. I'm afraid it won't work. I won't break my dresser. I won't scare the bad guys away. I'll only end up hurting myself. And I'll just end up looking childish, foolish, and pathetic.   

Vanity. Pure, unadulterated, intellectual vanity. I am mature, I am calm, I am in control. God, that's my drug of choice. And I don't know about the psychology of this, and I don't particularly care, because when I say healing I don't mean that I'll find out the mystery of my pain was something that happened on a camping trip when I was six, although that may also be important -- I mean I'm asking how anger, pure unreasoning wrath, can serve the purposes of God.

And by God I don't know. I don't see it. I don't have any idea. Not in me. Jesus with the cords, sure, but that's Jesus. What we have here is the king and his gallows. What we have here is David and the sling. What we have here is Elijah with the sword, Jael with the tent peg, Samson with the lion skull, and, yes, why not, even Jesus with the whip. Do we honestly believe that these people did those things with expressions of serene devotion on their face? Do we think they really committed brutal violence with somber countenance?

I can't believe they did, because I can't believe that God has much use for actual psychopaths. This is murder two at most. God, apparently, loves the thuggery. Or at least is willing to make use of the thuggery for God's own purposes. And that matters because it takes a certain mentality to drive a sharp iron through a man's skull or bring the Temple police at a run or, to put the Pauline spin on it, even find one's self in prison. Those are the people that God picks. They have a typical temperament.

And I don't have that. I don't have that at all. 

Next time: How does this text guide me? What is it concerned about, what are its interests?

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