Thursday of the First Week in Lent (February 18th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Esther.

The Book of Esther is a romantic adventure story that has as its heroine an orphaned Israelite by the name of Esther, whose beauty captures the attention of the emperor of the Persians and whose intelligence and integrity saves the lives of her fellow Israelites.

Today’s scripture passage from the Book of Esther presents Esther, who has become the new and favored wife of the emperor of Persia faced with a dilemma. Risk offending her husband and losing her status and privileges in the royal court and possibly saving the Israelites from genocide or retreating into self-interest and luxury while leaving the Israelites vulnerable to their enemies.

Esther chooses the former rather than the latter, and as a result of her courage and willingness to take risks, the Israelites are saved from their enemies.

The lesson? Esther was the recipient of all the benefits of worldliness. As wife of the emperor of the Persians she had at her disposal all the wealth, pleasure, power and honors that the world lavishes on the high and mighty. And yet she knew that of greater value than worldly attainments is the integrity of her character and the dignity of human life. What would it profit her to gain the whole world if it resulted in a rotten soul?

During Lent, the Church insists that we come to terms with what our desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors has done to our souls. For many, the example of Esther is a sign of contradiction to a life of compromise to worldliness. For all of us, the example of Esther presents an ideal toward which we should all strive. Worldly success is not the end towards which our lives are to be directed. Prosperity is not in itself a sign of virtue or of divine favor. If we will risk little or nothing for the sake of our integrity or for that of the dignity of human life, then our identity as disciples of the Lord Jesus is merely a mask that we wear rather than the truth of who we really are.

We can accept the word of the Lord Jesus in his Gospel as an instruction about prayer, an invitation that our relationship with God be personal, and as with a genuinely personal relationship, that we be willing to express to God in prayer our desires and our needs. We need not fear reprisals for our honesty. God in Christ presents himself as our friend and as one who knows us better than we know ourselves.

God who, in Christ, reveals himself to be our heavenly Father, and who becomes, in Christ, our brother does not receive the reality of our desires and needs with accusations and threats, but with compassion and understanding.

God in Christ reveals that God always desires what is good for us, and as such we can trust, that though we may not always receive in response to our requests what we want, that God is always acting on behalf of our greatest good. In the midst of hardship trusting that God desires what is good for us can be difficult, and in these instances, we should consider the cross of Christ- where what appeared to be an end, was ultimately revealed as a new and unexpected beginning and what appeared to be an terrifying evil, was transformed by God’s love into the revelation of the greatest good.

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