Tuesday, 6 March 2012
"For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place but thou and thy father's house shall perish: and who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
The message contained in the words spoken by Mordechai to Esther in ancient Persia with which this post begins, still have deep relevance to our lives today. Those familiar with the biblical Book of Esther will know the story well; the Jewish girl Esther is chosen to be part of King Ahasuerus' harem after his execution of one of his previous wives, and is told by her uncle Mordechai to keep her Jewish identity hidden. After some time Ahasuerus' wicked vizier Haman, decides to slaughter the Jews of Persia and receives royal approval to do so. Esther is confronted by Mordechai who asks her to approach the king and appeal for the salvation of her people. She expresses some hesitation at this, for it was well known that those who approached the king without him having summoned them were liable to be executed. Mordechai responds with the words written at the beginning of this post. Ultimately Esther does intercede, and with a serendipitous and providential series of coincidences the Jews are saved and Haman and his followers are killed. This ancient deliverance from genocide is celebrated annually by Jews on the festival of Purim, which this year begins this Wednesday evening.
Esther had to make a decision. Through no choice of her own she found herself in a situation which she could not have previously envisioned. She had become the beloved wife of the King of Persia, her people, their ties with her occulted from her own husband, were on the verge of destruction and she had some chance of being able to prevent it. But she would have to risk her own life to do so. Would she take hold of the opportunity before her, save her people and have her name become a focus of celebration for millennia to follow, or would she step back from Providence's challenge? She chose well, but do we?
Jesus of Nazareth also faced a tough choice, one that led to the events we will commemorate in a few short weeks:
"And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass away from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; remove this cup from me; howbeit not what I will, but what thou wilt." Mark 14:36
He decided to do the will of his Creator, but do we?
We may not all be placed in such momentous situations, on which hinge matters of life and death, but nevertheless we are given opportunities to choose between that which will make us realise our true selves; the best in us, and that which will lead us far from what we could truly become.
Last week my mother ended up in an unfortunate, but thankfully minor, accident. While waiting to fill her car with petrol, the car in front, driven by an elderly lady, began to reverse. Sounding her horn to try and prevent collision failed to work, and the car in front collided with hers causing some damage. My mother spoke with the clearly distraught driver of the other vehicle, who through a veil of tears pleaded with her to take the car to an inexpensive garage to have it repaired, as being a pensioner, whose husband had only recently passed away, she could not afford much, and was eager not to have her insurance premiums increase. After swapping details my mother reassured the lady that she would seek out an inexpensive garage for the repairs. It turned out that the bill for the repair would be over £200 pounds. When being informed of this price on the telephone the other lady, again through tears, said that it was far too expensive for her low income to cope with, and that she would have to communicate with her son who lived far away to see if he could help an eventuality she thought most unlikely. That afternoon my mum and I had a long conversation as to what to do. On the one hand she was not at fault for the accident, and is also a pensioner and who is struggling to build up a new business after having been made redundant recently. Why should she have to leave her car with dents and scratches, or loose over £200 pounds of her own money to repair it? The other woman should have been looking where she was going, or cease driving if she is not up to it anymore, and should certainly pay for the damage caused or go through the insurance that exists for just such an occasion. On the other hand the lady's distress and difficult circumstances were believed by us to be genuine, and we were both mindful of the teachings of our master;
"And if any man would go to the law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile go with him twain." Matthew 6:40
"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." Luke 6:31
These teachings, are reflected in the Talmudic story of Rabbah Bar Hana who hired two men to carry a precious amphora of wine back to his home, and who after they smashed the jar through their negligence, took their cloaks as compensation for his loss. Later he was informed by the great sage Rav that despite his legal right to do what he did, he should return to these poor men their cloaks and pay them in full the money they would have gotten had they not broken his amphora, because God wishes people to go beyond the letter of the law and their genuine entitlement, to act with love and compassion for others.
So the debate went back and forth most of the evening. In the end my mum had in mind to inform the lady the following day that she need not pay. Ultimately first thing the following morning my mother received a phone call from the other party's insurance company stating that they would repair the damage as their client had contacted them and accepted full responsibility. The decision had been, at the last moment, taken out of my mother's hands. But nevertheless she had in my opinion risen to glorious heights as a result of her deliberations and resolve. I am sure that it will be "reckoned unto her for righteousness".
History is replete with examples of people who refused to pass up moments of Providential opportunity. Who overcame hesitancy to instead heed the pleadings of God's voice speaking in their conscience, and who acted in ways that sanctified the name of the Divine and of Humankind. They serve as great exemplars to us all, for the little choices that we must make from day to day.
We may not fully understand the story of which we are a part, but it can do us no harm to keep at the forefront of our mind, that the choices we make, are writing the very words, the very sentences and paragraphs of this great human story. I believe we can face this reality faithfully and contentedly in the knowledge that the great Author is always whispering words of guidance to us, if we only pause to listen.
"Send forth, O God, Thy light and truth,
And let them lead me still,
Undaunted, in the paths of right,
Up to Thy holy hill.
Then to Thy altar will I spring,
And in my God rejoice;
And praise shall tune the trembling string,
And gratitude my voice."
John Quincy Adams 1841