For a Time Like This: Purim and doing the right thing (Esther 4)

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There was a time recently when I should have helped someone in need but didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I was totally polite and friendly, not arrogant, and so I was able to delegate the situation to someone else without looking like a complete swinebag. It’s always easier when you can do that.

But the moment has lived with me ever since. It exposed my hypocrisy and excuses and tendency to take the easy option. I can rationalise it – other people are often better placed to help, I don’t know the full situation and therefore don’t want to risk opening a can of worms, I don’t know what the heck I’m doing – but the fact remains, someone needed my help and I didn’t give it.

Today is Purim, the Jewish commemoration of events told in the Book of Esther. Long story short – Queen Esther, at great personal risk, rescues the Jewish exiles in Persia from genocide. It’s a raucous celebration, full of noise, gift-giving, dressing up and, in some case, getting incredibly drunk.

But the story of Esther has got mixed up with my failure to help, and so Esther 4 has become the most convicting part of the narrative. Here Esther is revealed to be the one person in the Jewish community in a position to prevent mass murder. She’s scared, sure, because one wrong move means her execution, but nevertheless she does what she’s got to do. Because, as her uncle reminds her, “Maybe a time like this is the reason you became queen in the first place.”

I have no idea if, in another time and place, I’d’ve supported Martin Luther King or insisted on having the front seat of the bus reserved for me; if I’d’ve supported an abhorrent dictatorship or been swept along with it. In one sense it doesn’t matter; the here and now is what counts, not some authoritarian parallel universe.

“Maybe this is why you’re here.” Not necessarily to save a nation but to redeem a moment. To take a stand, to say the right words, to say no words at all but to weep and embrace and be present. To refuse to participate in cultures that wound and demean. To lend a mobile phone or to make sure your mates all get in a cab at the end of the night. To try to make the world better and promote hope and holiness, even in the smallest ways.

Recently I failed. But I’m not Esther; the fate of a nation is not in my hands. And there are many more days on which to get things right.

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