The Jewish Bride(Esther), by Aert de Gelder., from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
This post was originally published as an article on the blog of The Nations Foundation.
Life is built upon moments of decision— left or right; yes or no; run or fight. Our brains and bodies are programmed to make split second choices. Some are minor: blink. Others are life altering: stop beating; stop breathing. Moments of decision alter trajectory and shape the future. Our choices to stand up for people and honorable ideals are no different; they have the potential to catapult a hurting world much closer to healing.
To many of us, the world in recent days feels like an overwhelming dose of madness. The air is heavy with division, anger, misunderstanding, and sadness over new policies and the exclusion of vulnerable people. Yet, here we are. Decisions must be made about how we will carry on. Many have chosen to march, speak up, write letters, and sign petitions. On January 21st, a friend of mine carried a poster in the Women’s March in Los Angeles. It read, “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, NLT) These words compelled me to revisit the story of Esther. I found that, like Queen Esther during her reign, we are living in a pivotal moment in history, one that calls for brave and kind voices to cut through shouts of division.
Esther was a Jew in Persia where the tribes of Benjamin and Judah dispersed after being exiled from Jerusalem. As an orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai, and among the diaspora of the Persian Empire, Esther represents a woman displaced. When her beauty and intelligence caught the king’s eye, he chose Esther to become the new queen of Persia. They married, but Esther kept her Jewish heritage a secret.
When Mordecai overheard a plan to eliminate the Jewish people he ran to Esther for help. Esther was faced with a life altering decision. If she went to the king to plead for mercy she faced death for entering his court without a summons. This would also reveal her Jewish identity, ensuring her death if the planned genocide wasn’t stopped. If she chose to be silent her cousin and all the Jews in Persia would die. Mordecai recognized the gravity of Esther’s decision and spoke to her with wisdom:
“Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” —Esther 4:13-14, NLT
Esther chose to risk it all. She pleaded for mercy on behalf of her people and the king complied. But what if the outcome were different? What if the king had executed Esther and the Jews? There was no guarantee her life would be spared or her efforts fruitful. Esther weighed the heavy cost and deemed the risk worthy.
Part of the mysterious and divine working of God is that we don’t know how and when the purposes of our lives will be manifested. When I don’t want to demand rights we should already possess, or when I’m tired of listening to intolerance and hatred, or when I feel powerless as part of a system I disagree with, I am compelled to remember this: today could be the day. My influence could be the spark that catalyzes change, from the smallest remark to the boldest act of kindness. I cannot believe Esther’s life was an isolated story. This theme of standing up for righteousness is threaded throughout all of human history. While we must not forget the sovereignty of God, neither can we forget that our decisions to stand for or against will affect change. It’s why I found my friend’s poster so profound. I am made to live in this specific era, surrounded by these exact people. Will I lean into my circumstances and heed the necessities of now?
One particular speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. can move me to tears, particularly as of late. The speech recalls Dr. King at a pivotal crossroads. He’s in his kitchen around midnight, restless and weary, with a cup of coffee in hand. He’s tired of fighting, of putting his family at risk time and time again. Discouraged by death threats, exhausted by the constant barrage of hatred and violence, he must decide whether to continue his pursuit of justice or allow others to maintain these efforts so he can preserve the safety of his family.
Sometime around midnight he resolves to carry on. He says, “I bowed down over that cup of coffee, I never will forget that. I prayed a prayer and I prayed out loud that night. I said, ‘Lord I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I think the cause that we represent is right. But Lord I must confess that I am weak now and faltering. I’m losing my courage.’ It seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you even to the end of the world.’”
This late-night revelation and one man’s decision to persist affected our nation immeasurably. Don’t let weariness convince you that righteousness isn’t possible now, nor let despair convince you that your decisions are irrelevant. History proves these theories false. Weigh each decision carefully; it matters. What a shame if misjudging the influence we wield diminished our roles in redemption. What if you were made for just such a time as this?
 MLK words taken from “Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool,” a sermon delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. at Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois, on August 27, 1967. Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DV7RqizoqJA