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It's More Than You Think

Commentary
Esther is not just the winner of a beauty contest. She, like us, has the potential to rise to the unexpected occasion! She turns out to be greater than we, and she, thought she was.

According to the most practical book of the New Testament, the letter of James, prayer is more than simply the channel for our hopes. Prayer is the practical avenue  for getting things done with God, and should be treated seriously. Prayer is more than you think.

And Jesus asks us to actually think when we apply words of wisdom, sharing in two gospel accounts two opposing proverbs that require us to discern the proper occasion for each.


Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 and Psalm 124
According to the Golden Rule, you should do unto others what you would have them do unto you. The Silver Rule is similar: don’t do unto others as you don’t want them to do to you. There’s another rule, or at least a warning, that suggests you’d better be careful that the evil you plan for others doesn’t bite back at you.

The Book of Esther is read aloud on the Feast of Purim. It is overblown, over the top, full of revelry and exaggeration. It’s thought by some that the reason that God is not mentioned even once in this book is that it is filled with merriment and joy at what happens to the enemies. One is supposed to cheer for Mordecai and boo for Haman.

By the end of the book the world gets turned upside down. Haman plotted the destruction of the Jewish people, and the destruction of Mordecai. He assumed he would be elevated over everyone else and become the King’s leading counselor.

Instead, Mordecai is promoted by the King, God’s people are empowered to destroy their enemies instead of being slaughtered by them and Haman is elevated -- to his doom -- on the gallows he’d prepared for Mordecai.

Along the way Esther discovers she is not just the winner of a kingdom-wide beauty contest. She, like us, has the potential to rise to the unexpected occasion. Despite her fears when Mordecai reminds her that perhaps she was placed in her position “for such a time as this” she rises to the occasion and sets the trap that exposes Haman’s dastardly plot and leads to her people’s triumph.


James 5:13-20
Although in our Bibles this is called the Letter of James you could get away with calling it “The Gospel of Jacob” for two reasons. First, the name James is the English version of Jacob. Second, no other book of the New Testament outside of the four gospels has so many echoes of the words of Jesus. James was the brother of Jesus, and either heard Jesus speak the words during the savior’s lifetime, or spoke with people afterward who travelled with him and came to know the richness of his brother’s words.

This letter of Jacob’s is filled with echoes of the words of Jesus. It is also one of the most practical of New Testament books. Don’t favor the rich (that was a theme of Jesus). The tongue causes more problems than anything else. The Heavenly Father is the source of all good things. True religion is taking care of widows and orphans in their distress (the most vulnerable demographics in the ancient population) and keeping oneself unstained from the world. Faith without works is dead.

And if we consider this book authoratative because it contains the words and thoughts of Jesus, and if it is an eminently practical book, then that means this last section about prayer is practical. Prayer is not simply earnest. Prayer works. Prayer is a part of healing. Confessing our sins and praying for each other is also a part of healing. The prayers of the righteous are powerful. Elijah provides a good example of just how powerful -- and cosmic -- prayer can be, shutting the heavens up. Most of all, praying for sinners restores them back into the fold, and doesn’t hurt us either.


Mark 9:38-50
It’s interesting, and a little confusing, that here, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” However in Matthew 12:30 Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me.” These are two very different statements. Did Jesus say one or the other or both?

The passage in Mark follows a discussion by the disciples about which one of them is the greatest, which Jesus redefines by saying “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me (9:37).”

Having described a situation in which servanthood and acceptance of the marginalized are the true hallmarks of discipleship, not power as the world defines it, can there be any wonder that in the context of this story Jesus would expect his disciples to abandon jealousy and rivalry for inclusion and acceptance?

The statement from Matthew is made in the context of false accusations, in this case that by casting out demons Jesus is allied with them. Matthew’s version of this saying warns us that those who literally demonize their opponents, who demean and dismiss others, are in danger of blaspheming against the Spirit present in all of us.

(adapted from Side by Side: Interpreting Dual Stories in the Bible, by Frank Ramirez, based on materials on pp 46-48.)
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