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Editor's note: Bread Blog is running a year-long series exploring passages from The Poverty & Justice Bible published by the American Bible Society (Contemporary English Version). The intent is a theological exploration at the intersection of social justice and religion. The blog posts will be written by members of the church relations staff at Bread for the World.
By Jared Noetzel
“Remember this month as a time when our sorrow was turned to joy, and celebration took the place of crying. Celebrate by having parties and by giving to the poor and by sharing gifts of food with each other.” (Esther 9:22)
Only one verse in the entire book of Esther is highlighted in The Poverty & Justice Bible (which emphasizes social justice issues), and it has to do with a party. In Esther 9, Mordecai, the wise father figure to the book’s heroine, gives instructions to the people of Israel on how to celebrate the festival of Purim, which marks God’s faithfulness in rescuing the Jews from destruction.
Earlier in the story of Esther, Haman enters. He is the newly appointed penultimate manager of Persia and descendant of Agag—King of the Amalekites, whom Saul spared in disobedience to the Lord’s commands. Enraged by Mordecai’s defiant refusal not to bow to him, Haman launches a campaign to destroy the Jews. Signed by the king and delivered to every town, a decree is issued, legalizing the execution of any Jew and the seizure of their property. When Mordecai discovers this plot, he and all Israel with him are distraught.
Here Mordecai faces an insurmountable challenge. A royal decree such as this one required another action by the king to amend. Steeled by his resolve, Mordecai, covered in sackcloth and ashes, goes to gain the attention of the only person who can advocate for the Jews—Esther. Before the gates of the king’s palace, Mordecai sits, wearing a symbol of mourning calling to all people, Esther included, to hear and see the gross injustice of Haman’s planned genocide. Upon learning of Mordecai’s condition, Esther immediately sends clothes to Mordecai so that he might take off his sackcloth. He ardently refuses.
Mordecai cannot take those clothes. He cannot remove himself from his petition. If he gives up his lament, then what will happen to the people of God? Mordecai knows well within his heart what faithfulness requires of him: to keep his protest until the Lord opens a pathway to justice and righteousness. Esther eventually hears Mordecai’s petition and decides to take up the cause of her people, but only because of the persistent, faithful advocacy of Mordecai.
Esther twice refuses to address the issue at hand: once with a gift and second out of fear for her own well-being. However, Mordecai is not deterred. He keeps up his patient work of advocacy using symbols, logic, and moral authority to move Esther to action. Like Mordecai, and later Esther, we too must keep up our faithful advocacy, knowing that God will open a way to justice and righteousness.
Jared Noetzel is a project coordinator in the church relations department at Bread for the World.
Like Mordecai, and later Esther, we too must keep up our faithful advocacy, knowing that God will open a way to justice and righteousness.
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