Monday, March 9, 2009

Festival of Purim

Tonight at sundown the Jewish festival of Purim begins. Purim is a celebration of the time when the Jewish people were saved from total extermination by a young woman named Esther. Her story and the story of Purim is found in the Biblical Book of Esther.

Esther was the niece and adopted daughter of Mordecai, living in Persia (modern day Iran). Esther was living in the home of King Xerxes, King of Persia, as part of his harem and had been made Queen of Persia by King Xerxes because he loved Esther more than all of the other women. Esther was Jewish but King Xerxes did not realize this as neither Mordecai nor Esther ever made mention of the fact.

Haman, a jealous, arrogant, self-serving man was advisor to King Xerxes. He despised Mordecai, because he would not bow the knee to Haman and therefore, Haman decided to exterminate the Jewish people.

In Esther 3:8, we read Haman’s words to King Xerxes: ‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people’s and they do not observe the king’s laws; therefore, it is not befitting the King to tolerate them.’ King Xerxes agreed and issued an edict of extermination.

Now there was a certain law of the land that stated no one could enter the king’s presence without being first summoned by the king. For Esther to place herself in the king’s presence uninvited was a very dangerous undertaking.

In Chapter 4 of Esther, we read that Mordecai, learning of the King’s edict that all the Jewish people be slaughtered, sends a message inside the royal court to Queen Esther, asking that she intercede for her people. Esther replies:

"All the servants of the king and the people of his provinces know that any man or woman, who goes to the king in the inner court without being summoned, suffers the automatic penalty of death, unless the king extends to him the golden scepter, thus sparing his life. Now as for me, I have not been summoned to the king for thirty days." (verse 11)

Mordecai responds to the Queen’s message in verse 13 – 14:

"Do not imagine that because you are in the king's palace, you alone of all the Jews will escape.
Even if you now remain silent, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another source; but you and your father's house will perish. Who knows but that it was for a time like this that you obtained the royal dignity?" - New American Bible

Another translation puts Mordecai’s words this way:

And who knows if you have come to the Kingdom for such a time as this? – Revised Standard Version

So Esther, together with all the Jewish people, fasted for three days in preparation and then Esther approached the King. Much to her surprise, he welcomed her. She was able to tell him about Haman’s plan to destroy not only her but all of her people. King Xerxes reverses the extermination planned by Haman and he puts Mordecai in Haman’s place in the royal court. Mordecai and Queen Esther were then able to work together for the benefit of the Jewish people and the feast of Purim celebrates this victory over destruction by God’s powerful hand.

The reason I point all of this out today is that verse 14 has always stood out for me. All of Scripture contains many levels of understanding. On one level, we have the story of Esther and Mordecai saving the Jewish people.
On another level, we have the meanings of Scripture that we can try to apply to our own 21st century lives.

We, ourselves, live in changing times. We need look no further than the evening’s news to know that we are in dangerous days. Wars, economic crisis, homelessness, lack of security accost us everywhere. We search for answers, seek deeper meanings, and wonder what will be the outcome of it all?

Those with faith know that God is in control but we all feel the need ‘to do something’ that can help, not only ourselves, but our families, our parishes, our communities, our world. What is it that we can do?

“And who knows if you have come to the Kingdom for such a time as this? “

Perhaps, we ourselves have been put here at this time for a specific purpose? I often wonder why, of all the generations of my family, I am the only one who has converted to Catholicism? Perhaps for a reason beyond my understanding or imagining? I do believe that God has a job for me to do, as yet undisclosed, but to be revealed later. Perhaps during some up-coming crisis, I will be able to lead someone to God’s fullness of truth found only in the Catholic Church.

Whatever that job may be, I pray that I would be worthy and ready for the task.

Why has God brought you to the Kingdom? There is much to think about here. Let’s reflect on this Jewish festival day of Purim and start thinking about God’s purposes. Let’s ponder with Mordecai his words, “And who knows if you have come to the Kingdom for such a time as this? “