Sunday, June 25, 2017

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Purim is for everyone

The holiday of Purim, taken from the scroll of Esther, is a Jewish tradition. It has all the elements of a classic Biblical storyline: two heroes (Esther, Mordecai), a notorious villain (Haman) and the salvation of Israel (can I get an Amen???). It also has some rather peculiar elements. For instance, the scroll of Esther doesn't mention the name of God (yet His handiwork is very evident throughout the story). It doesn't model a rigorous Torah-based religious lifestyle (though we see strong character and moral fiber in the heroes). It doesn't even refer to important Jewish concepts such as the Temple, Kosher or other Festivals (yet it concludes by establishing a new holiday, Purim). Let’s just say the scroll of Esther is rather unique in the annals of ancient Jewish literature (with some even calling it a deliberate work of comedy!).

But as Jewish as the book is, I think that the scroll of Esther has an important message for all of us today, Jew or Gentile, believer in Yeshua or not.

Purim, in a way, displays a model of how racism and intolerance affect all of us. The scroll of Esther portrays the hatred of Jews as emerging from that wicked, wicked man, Haman. In short, Haman is angered by Mordecai’s refusal to pay him homage (Esther 3:5). As a result, Haman devises a plan to “solve the Jewish problem” by “cleansing” the Persian Empire of Jews (Esther 3:6). Haman makes his case to the Persian King and gets the approval and financial resources he needs to make his “vision” happen (Esther 3:7-12).

Are you as disturbed as I was at how simple this hatred grew? It was such a simple progression from “I hate you (singular),” to “I will kill you (plural).” This is more disturbing given the fact that historically the Persian Empire was actually quite tolerant of foreign people and their customs – so long as the Empire was stable (see the JPS Commentary: Esther, by A. Berlin, pages 39-40). Yet, because Haman was such a “drama queen,” the decree of mass-murder went forth anyway.

As far-fetched as this may sound, we have seen this “simplicity” of hatred time and time again, from genocide in Africa to the holocaust in Europe. We have seen this in crusaders who burned synagogues, racists who fire bombed black-member churches, and politicians and commentators who demonize their opponents (aka virtual “fire bombing”) … the list goes on and on. And it is all too easy of a pattern to fall into, I’m afraid.

But what we see in the scroll of Esther is that if one man bangs the drum loud enough, others will follow. This was infamously on display in Nazi Germany. The Jews in Germany were Germans of Jewish descent. But many years of frustration and ignorance were putty in the hands of Hitler and his gang of thugs – and we all know how that one ended. For this reason, I feel that the scroll of Esther has an important lesson for all the world: don’t give the haters a pathway to incite violence. Don’t give into fear and indifference. We cannot afford this because the price of human life is too valuable.

As ambassadors for Messiah Yeshua, the scroll of Esther is a stark reminder to be on the lookout for hate in all forms. Of course we are a Messianic congregation, and thus we have a strong calling to combat anti-Semitism. Regardless, we cannot forget that other peoples besides Jews are demonized, and we cannot sit idly by and allow anyone to be oppressed. Further, we must be careful not to fall into the “Haman pattern” ourselves.

For example, I have heard some Messianic believers continually refer to Arabs as “terrorists.” This is exactly the same kind of demonization that should be avoided by followers of Yeshua. Note I am not suggesting there is no such thing as terrorism. But can we at least agree that not every Arab, and dare I say, not every Muslim, is a terrorist? This is but one example, but anytime we demonize people (even if they are wrong) we are guilty of becoming like Haman. After all, we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) – that includes the Mordecai’s and the Haman’s of the world.

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