The Proverbs 31 Family

“She accepted the advice of Hegai,” Esther 2:15

Esther has to be my most favorite book of the Bible. It is dramatic, full of intrigue, betrayal, conniving, and bravery. This book houses some of the most interesting relationships in biblical narrative.

If you read Esther today, you might find that Esther is not really the heroic figure in the story. She does not do all that much. She is a pretty passive character. I have thought in the past that perhaps the book should be called the book of Mordecai.

Mordecai is the actor in the story. He recognizes that Esther becoming queen is advantageous for their people. He is determined to pivot her position in favor of the Jews.

He finds his opportunity in Haman. Haman is a vain man, so Mordecai picks a fight with him by refusing to bow to him, which homage was warranted by Haman’s new assignment as the king’s right hand complete with the power of the king’s signet ring.

To say that Mordecai had religious reasons not to bow is to add to the text. It doesn’t say that. Nor does it mention persecution of the Jews for failing to bow to Xerxes or his dignitaries being a problem at the time.

So Mordecai creates a problem by aggravating Haman. Then the persecution starts and Haman uses his authority and influence on Xerxes to set a date for genocide.

Mordecai is the ultimate gambler! He starts this trouble, creates a public display of mourning that catches Queen Esther’s attention, and then advises Esther to use her influence to save her people. This better work!

Esther does not have power. But she has influence as Xerxes wife. She does not have an agenda. But she trusts the agenda that Mordecai has.

Esther is only heroic in how she conducts her relationships. She is noted for listening to Hegai on what to wear when she first met the king…that worked out for her as we know. And she also listened to the advice of Mordecai.

Mordecai did not have position or influence, but he had a trusting, cooperative relationship with someone who did have position and influence– Esther.

And the plan worked, thank God.

Mordecai eventually takes the position that Haman had as right hand to Xerxes. This means that he ended up using Esther to attain even more power and influence than she had. The Bible doesn’t say anything about her feeling jilted by that– and why would she be, under Mordecai’s advisement the Jews became rich and powerful in the Persian empire.

Mordecai’s “for such a time as this,” was a statement about opportunity. It was like saying “this is our chance!”

As we journey together as Christians, our end game is the earth being filled with Christ’s glory. This means that every opportunity should be seized upon to advance the cause of Christ– regardless of “whose who.” We have to be willing at times, or all the time, to be like Esther. This is to have a heart that doesn’t cling to position, power, recognition, or “whose doing it.” It is a heart that is willing to yield.

A heart that is willing to yield takes advice. It shares it’s position and influence. It accepts the possibility of losing it’s position taking action on a plan it doesn’t totally understand.

A heart that yields is always ready for the right opportunity surrounded by the right relationships.

 

The Proverbs 31 Family

“She went into seclusion.” Luke 1:24

The highlights of the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth are undoubtedly their visitors: the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. With such spiritual mega-stars just dropping by, I hope Elizabeth kept her guest towels clean and pressed.

But of course, I want to look at the lowly and boring aspects of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s big moment in history– five months of seclusion and nine months of silence. Seclusion and silence.

I am a SAHM to a two year old child, so seclusion and silence are painfully familiar to me. Well– my house of course is not silent, but I do hear the deafening vacuum of my voice in the world getting sucked preemptively out of my lungs. Being at home without any agency to be in public, participate, contribute, and be measurably productive has been demoralizing for me.

The cabin fever I experience is due in part to a serious illness I suffered at age 23. It took about 7 years for me to recover. This brain illness– that I was diagnosed with just one year out of college– is scientifically studied as being triggered by “life goal achievement.” In other words, the closer I get to reaching what I’ve been working toward the more likely I am to relapse. This illness clipped my wings. It cooped me up and walled me in. Seclusion and silence have been persistent and painful themes in my adult life particularly in the areas of career and calling.

I have difficulty valuing my role as a mother and wife sometimes… or a lot of the time. There is a gap in my adult experience- working before the domesticated life- that gap aches. The heady, haughty accomplishments of a young woman in her twenties are just an imagination for me. I never got to be one of the obnoxious quasi-feminist marketing-freelance-event planning activists- from a 90’s RomCom, I guess. I often feel that I didn’t get to choose, and that as a mom my choices continue to be limited. I lack agency in my life. At least by perception, I do.

The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is a story about how lacking agency, being secluded, and being silent can be the description of the prescription God has given you right now in preparation for what is upcoming in His kingdom and on His agenda. Luke 1-3 is the preparation period for Christ’s ministry. Those three chapters have a theme of preparation, and within that theme the atmosphere of preparation is lacking agency, being secluded, and being silent.

The first character we meet in the book of Luke is Zechariah. If there is anyone who should be prepared for a special assignment, it is Zechariah. He is a priest! We meet him in the Temple burning an incense offering on an altar. A righteous man, in ministry, ceremonially cleansed for special worship when the angel Gabriel tells him personally the assignment God has for Zechariah’s life. And he blows it. He speaks doubt. So he is put on mute until God’s work is done.

You’ll notice the other characters in this story do a lot of praising and prophesying. During this prep time for both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ negative speech was silenced and only praise and prophecy were allowed. Sometimes we need to be silenced for our own sake because if given a voice we would discredit and disqualify ourselves from the magnitude of service God is hiring us for.

Zechariah also had agency. He was the one who was given a command to do something. Elizabeth had no agency. Mary had no agency. Yet, they were able to quietly and calmly ponder what was happening, and be faithful in obedience. Sometimes having agency can be a stumbling block— particularly when the day’s mission is preparation.

That preparation was a calling unto itself. Jesus was about to be born! This was a delicate and simultaneously monumental moment. The web of political movement, spiritual warfare, and human rebellion was on a knife’s edge. There was no room for error. There was no room for disbelief. There was no room for Christians who feel the need to grandstand, or demand a well-lit platform for their spiritual giftings, or to be given a more interesting assignment in a more exotic locale. God did not need people of position for this job; or people who were eloquent, or opinionated, or understanding, wise, or insightfulful, nor did He need people who were talented, young or beautiful. He needed barren old Elizabeth because she was a believer. Sometimes it’s less about what we put out into the world and more about what we take in and “ponder in our heart” about God.

The call for that day was inaction. It was quiet receptiveness. It’s expression was praise, prayer, and prophecy. Elizabeth and Mary gathered together in seclusion to share their testimonies with each other. This built them up in faith and courage for what was to happen— their ministries would both end with the broken hearts of having martyred sons.

Now, I am definitely not proposing that the role of women in ministry is a silent, secluded submission. Zechariah was after all the one who had his speech taken away. Nor do I think “a woman’s ministry is her home, husband, and children.” I am saying, that if you feel that you do not have agency; if you feel isolated, shut down, blocked, frustrated; if you are a mom with young kids; if you are a person is who ill— or taking care of someone ill– a lack of human agency has never stopped God. You don’t need to be able-bodied for God to call you up for duty. You don’t need to build up your resume before God will call your name. If God wants you qualified, He’ll qualify you.

Women as a rule lack agency more than men do. Even powerful and wealthy women often lack agency both within and outside their homes. But in her lack of agency, Elizabeth, a faithful woman led her unbelieving husband into belief. He got in his own way—kind of like I do to myself! What he had didn’t help him. What Elizabeth didn’t have did help her, and preserved her family’s usefulness to the Lord in that appointed moment.

Our belief encourages others to believe. While we believe, the testimony we build inspires those in relationship with us to turn their eyes to the Lord also. In those moments where we feel completely imprisoned by our situation, our sickness, our disability, or our social disadvantage, we have to remember that our humble morsel of belief is the thing of value.

Our belief alone can be our gentle contribution for the colossal good of our community, our relationships, our partners, our family members, and as with Elizabeth, the world.

I don’t need to be able; I need to be willing (Luke 1:38.) Today, that willingness is honoring what I don’t have, and knowing that being busy for God is not as important as being ready for God.

 

Easter

“Do this in remembrance” Exodus 12 & Luke 22

Until today I was unaware of what Maundy Thursday is. It is a celebration of the command to “love each other” given at the Last Supper.* “Maundy” originates from the latin for “command.” I know the Israelites were commanded to remember the night that the angel of death “passed over” them. I know that Jesus told his disciples to remember him when they partake in Communion. I have not contemplated until today what overlap there might be between the Old Covenant Passover and the New Covenant Communion.

Unconsciously, I have always conceptualized the Last Supper as different from the Passover, though of course the Last Supper was a Passover meal. I want to lay down, real quick, a short list of similarities between to the two. In fact, let me jump to my conclusion— Jesus completed the Passover requirement and then doubled down on it at the Last Supper; which I would say is pretty consistent with everything that Jesus did whilst on Earth.

Exodus 12 gives a detailed picture as to how the Israelites were to celebrate the Passover, why they were to celebrate the Passover, and who could celebrate the Passover. Luke 22 gives us the same details about Communion according to Jesus’ instructions at the Last Supper, or First Supper if you will.

So let’s look at this without too much fuss:

How to celebrate: Celebrate with a special meal containing symbolic components.

Why to celebrate: Celebrate to remember the work of God’s salvation.

Who can celebrate: Only God’s people can celebrate this meal.

The third point caught me a bit off guard at first. I didn’t realize that Passover was only for the “native-born Israelites” or people who had effectively converted by being circumcised (Exodus 12:43-49.) “No outsiders are allowed to eat the Passover meal,” Exodus 12:43. I feel that that point is specifically important in regard to the Last Supper.

The Maundy command “to love one another” is a command for Christians to love each other. It’s not a command for Christians to love the lost soul. It is not a command for all people to love one another. When Christians participate in Communion or when they celebrate the Last Supper they are to remember that God cares about how people in the church treat each other.

The people we go to church with can be pretty irritating. Some are over-religious. Some are too cool being obnoxiously proud of their record collection and slight drinking habit. Some are theology snobs, some are bible trivia nerds. Some volunteer for everything, others do Sunday service in a dine-and-dash fashion. Some are nosy, some are aloof. And most are self-righteously concerned about whether the people they go to church with are “really saved.” Cause, you know, if they were “really saved,” their kid wouldn’t act like that, they wouldn’t dress like that, you wouldn’t see them at the kind of places you see them at, they wouldn’t keep people’s Tupperware dishes, they’d RSVP on time, their husband wouldn’t have left like that…

Well, Jesus laid to rest the “really saved” topic at the Last Supper. Passover is celebrated to remember God’s salvation in the past from slavery and the tradition is continued forward in the hope of continued salvation. Passover celebrates an unfinished work, which is best illustrated by the Jewish custom of setting a place for Elijah at the Passover seder. When Jesus took the unleavened bread, symbolic of sinlessness, and the cup of wine, symbolic of the lamb’s blood used on the door posts by the Hebrews as a sign to the angel of death that he should pass over that house, and he said about the bread and wine “these are me,” he was saying, “it is finished.” That ongoing hope of salvation commemorated in Passover was complete. Salvation is no longer an on-going quest, but a mission fulfilled.

But, like I said, Jesus tends to double down. So with the fore-shadowing purpose of Passover completed, what was it that the Last Supper was to symbolize carrying forward? It is no longer a hope of salvation, but a reminder that Jesus has established a Kingdom for those who are saved. That Kingdom is one of love defined by servanthood, a Kingdom of thrones seated upon by the lowliest members of mankind.

Jesus famously washed his disciples feet during the Last Supper according to the Gospel of John. Peter objected to Jesus’ act of humility. But Jesus told him, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” Jesus also said “since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.”

Belonging to Jesus requires no on-going pursuits of salvation, but an on-going pursuit of humility. The perfect opportunity to do that is amongst our annoying brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no satisfaction in serving the saved. I feel way better about myself when I evangelize or give away spare change. Loving people “who should know better” is harder. Paul says that Christians should give up all their rights for each other. We remember the Kingdom and how the Kingdom operates, when we love one another.

Perhaps the next time the gold trays with tiny cups and puffy square crackers is laid out, our reflection might center less on our “personal door-posts” and our need for the salvation in the Passover blood. Rather, remember the level of lowliness that Christ expects of us, and the tender regard for our brothers and sisters He expects us to have, as the requirement of being categorized as His own.

*”The Other Holy Day,” Christianity Today