In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Friday, September 25, 2009

Proper 21B

A reflection on Proper 21 Year B, Esther 7-9:22, by The Rev. Margaret Rose

Reflections on Esther and Orphan Theology

My daughter, Miriam, now 21, was an avid Bible reader at an early age. Her favorites texts were the Old Testament family epics. She would read for hours and then come to me with questions which stretched my exegetical knowledge. She was most perplexed that in the midst of the many everyday details about women related to “flow of blood” or cosmetics, eating and drinking, or intricate descriptions of palaces and their d├ęcor that there was a vital missing aspect. “Why don’t they ever talk about bathrooms in the Bible, mommy?” (Actually, she later told me she did find some reference to Saul in this regard…)

While I could not answer her question, with or without a straight face, I was glad her reflections quickly moved to other stories. Often, though, she returned to the book of Esther which includes this Sunday’s text. I dare say she missed the strong feminism of Queen Vashti who refused to strut in front of the King and his feasting friends. And I suspect she enjoyed the beauty treatments that Esther received in order to please the King. But she was also moved by the courage of Esther who defied cultural norms, named herself as a Jew and saved her people. This is the Jewish celebration of Purim which happens in the crossroads of winter to spring in the Jewish calendar’s month of Adar.
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The text for this Sunday relates the part of Esther’s story where she calls Haman out for his plan to annihilate the Jews. The king is enraged, Haman is hanged and at least for this day there is no pogrom.

What a strong and strategic woman Esther was. First, in becoming Queen, then in hearing her Uncle Mordecai’s plea, “Do not imagine Esther, that of all the Jews in the kingdom you alone will be safe. If you remain silent at such a time as this, relief and deliverance for the Jews will come from anther quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows whether it is not for such a time as this that you have become Queen.” Esther heeds his call and in defiance of the law, vows to go to the King, even if it costs her life.

Initially, I intended to continue these reflections with a look at how life so often brings us to a time and place for a certain noble purpose. We, like Esther have a choice to risk, if not our lives , much that is important to us. For such a time as this…. we are given the means and the power to make a difference, if only we will choose to do so. For that we need strength and bravery and a large dose of courage.

What we don’t often realize in Esther’s story as we revel in her courage is that she is an orphan, having lost both her parents. It is Mordecai, her uncle, in whose family she has been raised. And because of that I offer another aspect which might be useful in preaching this text.

In the Spring/’Summer edition of the Harvard Divinity School bulletin, Elizabeth Siwo-Okundi, currently a Phd student at Boston University and a Kenyan, relates the story of her field work in Kenya at the Homa Bay Children’s home which works with children orphaned by HIV/Aids. During her intense summer of field education Elizabeth saw the connections between the wisdom encountered among the children there and the Biblical texts studied in her more academic life. She reminds us not only of the Biblical mandates to care for the widowed and orphaned, but also of the small and powerful voice these who are seen as powerless often exert. She notes the power of the small voice in 2 Kings when the widow woman calls on Elisha to help her orphaned children, and later when the voice of the servant girl to the wife of Naaman is the one responsible for the Elisha’s healing.

And it is the small and strategic voice of Esther who saves her people. Elizabeth Siwo-Okundi’s own words say it best:
Although the story of Esther has been romanticized, her life story is fraught with difficulties. When Queen Vashti is banished from the throne, Mordecai, whose intentions are hotly debated by scholars, seems to be looking out for Esther’s best interests by granting her the opportunity to become the king’s new wife. However, the “application process” consists of girls engaging in sexual activity with the king and being judged for their beauty and performance, the price of which is deemed to be small in comparison to the opportunity to become queen. The story suggests that through this avenue Esther can save herself, have a better life and save her people.
In a small voice reading, Esther’s story reminds us that sex for potential salvation is daily presented to or forced upon orphan girls. Just as Esther was subjected to sexual abuse as the way to salvation, it is not uncommon for prostitution and sexual slavery to become the means of income for some orphan-girls in Africa.” (Harvard Divinity School Bulletin Spring/Summer2009)

And I would add many other places. As Siwo-Okundi develops her understanding of Orphan Theology, she invites us to read the texts with a strong hermeneutic of suspicion. What is really going on here? Who is being exploited? She invites us to note the places where rather than become a powerless victim, the small voice of the orphan becomes a powerful word for good.

As I re read the story of Esther, I began to wonder about Purim. And whether there were any discussions of this celebration from a feminist perspective. Indeed, a number. One in particular was an article in the JWeekly, written by the mother of four sons. In it she delves into the power and courage of Vashti who in refusing to come before the King and show her beauty, was banished from the Kingdom, or worse. But that voice is for another Sunday!

1 comment:

revhipchick said...

thank you for sharing "orphan theology" with us--very powerful, moving, thought provoking,