Esther 5: 9 – 14 Haman went out that day happy and in good spirits. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and observed that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was infuriated with Mordecai; nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home. Then he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh, and Haman recounted to them the splendour of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honoured him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the ministers of the king. Haman added, ‘Even Queen Esther let no one but myself come with the king to the banquet that she prepared. Tomorrow also I am invited by her, together with the king. Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.’ Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, ‘Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged on it; then go with the king to the banquet in good spirits.’ This advice pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made.
Reflection Who’s in charge around here? Who’s responsible for this? The two questions may well elicit somewhat different answers. At this point in the book of Esther, the jeopardy for both potential persecutor and victim are being ratcheted up. Greedy for even more power and wealth, Haman’s covert plan to massacre the Jews is made more intense by yet another encounter with Mordecai’s unbending bravery.
His excitement at being one of only two guests to get an invite to Esther’s bash is sullied by her guardian’s mere existence. Will Haman listen to the advice of his wife? Her counsel, far from turning down the murderous temperature, is rather designed to perfect its execution – literally.
Haman is undeniably the one in charge. But it’s clear that the responsibility for this particular act is not confined to him alone. Zeresh has a direct input – it was her idea in the first place. And the friends who joined them seem to connive in the plot; no reference is made to anyone raising an objection. And of course, the bigger conspiracy to annihilate the Jews has the support of Haman’s sons and a broad coalition of other malcontents. All of these are responsible.
This situation put me in mind of Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. This book remorselessly documents the direct and indirect culpability of virtually all of German society in the persecution of the Jews. It caused an outrage when it was published in 1996, as it busted the carefully constructed myth of majority ignorance about the Holocaust and pockets of sustained resistance. No more heroes anymore.
Taking responsibility for our own actions, leave alone those of others with whom we are in contact, is tough. Jesus on the Cross did just that: loading the responsibilities of others’ sins of commission and omission onto his body. It’s easy to see Haman has a Biblical baddie who is so unlike us. It’s harder, isn’t it, not to identify ourselves with Zeresh?
Prayer Lord, I am responsible. Give me the strength to see my own responsibility in everything around me. Guide me to act responsibly in being Kingdom-centred. Heal me and others when I am irresponsible in my actions and in my words. Lord, I am responsible.
Paul Simon is a non serving Elder at Hadleigh URC in Suffolk.