When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; he went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. In every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
When Esther’s maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth; but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what was happening and why. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people.
Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, ‘All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden sceptre to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.’ When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’ Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.’ Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
When the king decrees the destruction of all Jews, the crisis comes to a head. As a religious act, Mordecai puts on sackcloth and ashes and goes into the city crying aloud bitterly. Nothing spreads so quickly as bad news. Consequently, in an appeal to God’s mercy the people fast and mourn. Spurning her gift of new clothes, Mordecai explains to his cousin Esther she must intervene “for such a time as this.”
Esther is an unlikely heroine. Until now Esther has kept her head down. She has not been willing to enter the king’s political circles. So when Mordecai calls upon her to act on behalf of her people in exile, we can imagine her saying “Who? Me? I don’t have any power or authority. I’m just an orphan, a woman and a Jew”. She has not thought of herself as the agent of change or able to make a difference. Yet as a Jewish woman who is also Queen Esther, she is in a unique position to save her people.
Esther’s Jewishness, which she has so carefully hidden at court, now comes to the fore. Is she most deeply a Jew? Or a cousin? Or a Persian queen? Or simply another woman whose life is determined by others in power? Who will she decide to be?
Initially resisting Mordecai’s request, Esther does indeed intervene, knowing that she will risk her own life by approaching the king. In return, she calls upon the support of her Jewish community, asking them to fast and pray for her. Rescue comes through claiming her God and her faith publicly.
Esther’s struggle with identity and risk raises all sorts of critical questions for us today: what power does any one of us really have to make a difference? What kind of risks are we willing to take on behalf of the vulnerable? Where are the Esthers who will risk going into difficult places to speak a word of life for such a time as this?
God of justice, when we are tempted to keep our heads down help us to find our voice to advocate for those who have no voice that peace and justice may prevail, for new beginnings for all people, for freedom to replace fear and for there to be a better tomorrow. Amen.
The Rev’d Nicola Furley-Smith, Secretary for Ministries