When the virgins were being gathered together, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. Now Esther had not revealed her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had charged her; for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him. In those days, while Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Ahasuerus. But the matter came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, both the men were hanged on the gallows. It was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king.
It seems that in stories about ancient royal courts, intrigue and plots to overthrow the King (or Queen) at the pinnacle are rarely far away. The court of King Ahasuerus is no different.
Treason is considered to be the gravest of criminal offences, more serious than murder, because of the threat to the safety of a state. In the UK the last treason trial, of William Joyce (popularly known as Lord Haw-Haw from his broadcasts of Nazi propaganda during World War II) took place in 1945. Such is its seriousness that treason was one of few crimes to remain a capital offence following the abolition of the death penalty for almost all crimes in the UK in 1965. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 specifies that the maximum punishment now for treason is life imprisonment.
But what are an individual’s obligations in respect of defending (or not attacking) of their state of citizenship? How does this sit alongside the obligations of Christian discipleship? Recently the General Assembly affirmed the Address to the Throne normally presented as one of the final items of business where on occasion I have pondered what it means to live out that statement of loyalty as a servant in the world and citizen of God’s eternal kingdom.
The fate of Bigthan and Teresh is unsurprising. In the story Mordecai and Esther are demonstrating their loyalty; the loyalty of the Jewish people to the Persian state was considered questionable, so important perhaps that their stance was unequivocal. But what of our loyalty to whatever state where we have obligations of citizenship and how does that balance with our status as servants in the world and citizens of God’s eternal kingdom?
Holy One, we hold our obligations, rights and responsibilities to different powers in tension.
In things that affect obedience to God the Church is not subordinate to the state, but must serve the Lord Jesus Christ, its only Ruler and Head.
Help us to balance these loyalties remembering that we ourselves are servants in the world as citizens of God’s eternal kingdom.
Strengthen us for service as your people. Amen.
Quotes from ‘The Basis of Union of the United Reformed Church’
The Rev’d Sarah Moore, Transition Champion, the National Synod of Scotland, and Assistant Clerk of the General Assembly