Lectionary Preview study materials: Pentecost 18, Season of Creation (26 september)
(Study on 21 september)
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The First Reading
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
The king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me– that is my petition– and the lives of my people– that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.
Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.
Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.
Nisi quia Dominus
1 If the Lord had not been on our side, *
let Israel now say;
2 If the Lord had not been on our side, *
when enemies rose up against us;
3 Then would they have swallowed us up alive *
in their fierce anger toward us;
4 Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *
and the torrent gone over us;
5 Then would the raging waters *
have gone right over us.
6 Blessed be the Lord! *
he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the Name of the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Pentecost 18 September 26, 2021 Brian B. Pinter
RCL: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22; Psalm 124; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Esther is perhaps the most fun of all the biblical books! A hilarious cast of characters, comedic turns of fate, and a clear commendation of enjoyment make this story a delight! And, of course, the story of Esther animates the wonderful Jewish holiday known as Purim. It is remembered on this day how Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai saved the Jewish people of Persia from the plots of the wicked Haman. Purim includes costumes and noisemakers which are sounded whenever the name “Haman” is mentioned in the text! Another Purim tradition derived from the ancient Babylonian Talmud is that Jews are to drink until they cannot tell the difference between the phrases “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai!”
While the book of Esther conveys much wisdom and is a joy to recite, let’s focus on two brief points. First, the book does not mention God. Rather, we intuit that God is at work in events and in the characters’ choices and intuitions. Isn’t it much the same for us? Like Esther and Mordecai, we are called to discern and act in our circumstances as best we can. The invitation is to trust that God is mysteriously, quietly at work beneath the surface. What’s more, our reading concludes with a call to celebrate and enjoy! We don’t often hear such an enjoinder under the auspices of religion. Our ancestors in faith understood that life is above all a gift to be celebrated and enjoyed; that there indeed should be days of “feasting and gladness”!
- How can we make days of “feasting and gladness” a spiritual practice, as commended by the book of Esther?
Our psalm verses this week strike themes of new life, redemption, and the trustworthiness of the Lord. Verse 8 expresses a truth that is key to the Christian journey – “Our help is in the name of the Lord.” In other words, we can’t do it on our own. Our ultimate security, peace, meaning, and future require our cooperation with God’s transformative grace. Though we value “independence” and have internalized the non-biblical teaching that “God helps those who help themselves”, Psalm 124 stands as a counter-witness to this kind of thinking. The authors of this poem lived through a trial that threatened their very survival (perhaps the Babylonian Exile). They teach us that in the experience of having nowhere else to turn but God, one is initiated into the reality of human limits and vulnerability, and also the power of God to deliver from the flood that would have swept us away (v. 4).
- How have you experienced the truth that “Our help is in the name of the Lord?”
James emphasizes the importance of rituals in the life of faith. The instruction to call for the elders to pray over the sick, using oil in the name of the Lord, has been interpreted in our tradition as a forerunner of the sacrament of anointing. Similarly, the teaching that we should confess our sins to one another is held as a prototype of sacramental confession. James recognizes the need for human contact through ritualized gestures. These speak in a powerful way to the human heart.
James concludes by underscoring his major theme – faith in action. Christians are called to hear the word and put it into practice. Faith in action is faith that works for the building up and preservation of the community. Although individual members of a community might be sinners, the good work to maintain the unity of the group serves to counteract, to “cover a multitude of sins” (v. 20).
- How have ritual gestures and prayers been important to your experience of Christian faith?
The metaphor of the body was a commonly used teaching tool in the ancient world, and we see Jesus take it up in our verses this week. While often used to symbolize the community (see also 1 Cor. 12), Jesus creatively uses “body” to address the matter of scandal. We might find Jesus’ language harsh, for he says in effect if a member of the community is leading others astray, that member should be removed, before the whole body is damaged. And his concluding proverb about salt is not innocuous. Salt was used in the ancient Near East as a catalyst to start fires. He is telling his audience to be confrontational at times. Verse 50 could be interpreted to mean that troublemakers should be confronted so that the community can have peace. This passage, when read in this light, is among the “hard sayings” of Jesus. In the context of our modern church communities, we are invited to carry the tension between protecting the integrity of the community and being compassionate toward the wayward.
- How might we go about discerning when scandal is a danger to the community, and how we might confront it?
Brian B. Pinter is a teacher of religious studies at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx and a Pastoral Associate at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan.