Spring is a great time to think about the future. Especially for those in school, the future and all it may hold, looms large, full of promise. High school seniors are thinking about what they will do after they walk across the stage to receive their diploma and go – where? To work? To college? To technical school? To boot camp? What are their lives going to be like? How are they going to be prepared for the future? For college seniors, it’s even more full of possibilities – and maybe worries. Where will they get a job? WILL they get a job? What about graduate school? When they close their eyes to imagine their preferred future, what does it look like? For that matter, when we close OUR eyes, what does OUR preferred future look like? What are OUR hopes, our aspirations, our dreams, our goals? How do our experiences – the good ones and the ones we would prefer to not repeat – how do those things shape us, and prepare us, for our future? And most important of all, for Christians, is this bigger question: What does GOD’S preferred future look like? How do we fit into that?
The story of Esther is a story in which God allows human beings to work for good, or, by staying silent, to be complicit in allowing great evil to take place. There are actually two different versions of the Book of Esther. The original Hebrew text actually does not mention God at all, explicitly. The Septuagint, the Greek translation done around 325 BCE of the Hebrew text, varies greatly from the Hebrew, by inserting several lengthy prayers by both Esther and her uncle, or cousin, Mordecai, which invoke God’s favor, guidance and protection. The Hebrew text is clearly concerned with the choices people make. That’s because GOD is clearly concerned with the choices people make. But choices are never made in a vacuum. Choices are determined by our histories. Just as the choices we make at turning points in our lives, to attend school, to find work, to marry or not, to relocate or not, influence the choices we make further down the road, so with Esther and Mordecai.
In chapter one, the king of Persian has become very angry with his wife, Vashti. He sends her away – to get the whole scandal-filled story you’ll have to read chapter one – and at the beginning of chapter two... 2Then the king’s servants who attended him said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. 3And let the king appoint commissioners in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem... [to] the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; let their cosmetic treatments be given them. 4And let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” In short, there is a beauty contest – all the fair maidens were encouraged to come to court and be trained in what it takes to be a queen, with the hopes that one of them will be the new queen. Think of The Bachelor, on steroids. And enter Esther and Mordecai.
Esther and Mordecai are Jews, living in Persia after the fall of Jerusalem. Esther is an orphan; Mordecai has adopted her, and raises her up in the way he hopes for her to go. She has been taught that family matters. She has been taught to remember her roots – even if she does not speak openly about her heritage. She and Mordecai are both immigrants, exiles. Although they are accepted, there is no reason to draw attention to the fact that they are not ethnic Persians. Esther has been taught good communication skills – she is easy to be around. People like her. She has been taught to seek good counsel – and when she hears it, she acts on good advice. So Esther also went to the palace; because she is beautiful and charming, she is befriended by the head of the harem, who gives her lots of good, practical advice. And, 16When Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus in his royal palace .... 17the king loved Esther more than all the other women; of all the virgins she won his favor and devotion, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.
Mordecai is now doubly-well connected. Besides being related by marriage to the king, we also learn that although he is not a native Persian, he is trusted by the Persian officials. In both verses 19 and 21, we learn that Mordecai “sat at the king’s gate.” That doesn’t mean that Mordecai hung out there, loitering around. That means that Mordecai was a trusted man who paid attention to who was coming in and going out, that he listened to what was going on around him, alert to any trouble that was brewing, or might be beginning to brew, in the main thoroughfares. Some Jewish study bibles say that Mordecai was actually a member of the king’s secret police. Certainly, if we read the entire book of Esther, we learn that Mordecai had an incredible amount of access to the king. And 21In those days, while Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate...., two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Ahasuerus. 22But the matter came to the knowledge of Mordecai. Mordecai, in his role as a member of the secret police, acted quickly to protect the king. Mordecai told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. By entrusting Esther with this crucial information, Mordecai didn’t have to worry about any other possible conspirators blocking the warning. The king acts on this information. The two men were arrested and executed. At that time, Mordecai was not recognized in any way for his quick action in saving the king’s life. Although it may have felt like a slight at the time, this too worked in Mordecai’s favor as the story continued to unfold.
In fact, God has positioned both of them to be the salvation of the Jews of Persia. They don’t know that yet; it will take a bit more time for events to unfold, events in which they have to make tough choices, to act or not to act. Their futures become tightly bound up in God’s preferred future for the Jewish exiles living in Persia. But at this point they are just living out their lives, as well-connected, privileged people, seemingly safe and secure. They are not thinking about God, or God’s preferred future at all.
Esther and Mordecai had made a good life – a great life – an incredible life – for themselves by working hard, by being reliable, teachable, honest, kind, all of those things we also strive for. These things are good things. But living incredible lives, by themselves, are not God’s preferred future. God positions us, just as He positioned Esther and Mordecai, for God’s preferred future. And in our hearts, we know this. We are made for more than just ourselves. We are made to make a difference in this place that God loves so very much, through what we do for those outside ourselves.
So what has God been positioning you, preparing you, for? What has God been positioning us, preparing us for? What does God’s preferred future for us look like? Think about what we have been given, and how God is positioning us for the unique task God has designed for us. We will find out more about Esther and Mordecai’s unique task next Sunday. For now, consider what God is preparing US for. We can learn from Esther and Mordecai, when we look at the similarities between their situation and our own. It starts with considering what God has already done to prepare us, as we move into God’s preferred future. What has God been doing in your live, in our lives together? As we come to this table, prepared for us with love by the Lord our God, consider God’s future for you, and for us. May God open the eyes of our hearts, so we can see, hear, touch, smell and taste not only God’s presence here in this bread and in this juice but so we can also catch some glimpse of God’s preferred future, a future bright with hope, and promise. Lord God, fill us with Your vision, and sustain us with Your promise, until Jesus returns again. And even so, come soon, Lord Jesus. Amen.