The reading for Sunday, June 26, 2016:
Esther 7 and 8
As I think of the story of Esther, I find myself thinking about how humans act when the stakes are high. Sociologists have been studying human behavior in the face of great catastrophe, and they tell us that most humans will help when people are in terrible trouble. We've heard stories of the teacher who tries to shield students from bullets, of those during the September 11 attacks who helped the less able-bodied navigate the stairs. We hear stories of heroes who rush into burning buildings--or in the case of Esther, approach the king unbidden--and we wonder if we could do that.
The danger of the story of Esther is that we read the story, and we say, "Of course, if life is on the line, I, too, would be brave and go before the king." After all, what choice does Esther have? If the king has her killed for disobeying the rules and coming to him of her own volition, it will be no worse a fate than waiting to be killed as a Jew.
We assume that we would be brave, if our lives were on the line. But what if the stakes are not that high?
Are we willing to speak up when a colleague tells an offensive joke? Are we willing to think about where we spend our hard-earned money and only support those companies that match our values?
I had an interesting series of conversations the other day when my company decided to let a local Chick-Fil-A come to campus to bring box lunches to those who wanted to buy them. One of my colleagues thought that they shouldn't be allowed on campus at all--the school has an anti-discrimination policy, and Chick-Fil-A has supported some causes that are discriminatory. One colleague thought that if we didn't want to support the company, that no one was being forced to buy the food. One colleague wanted us to support more non-chain restaurants, while another thought that supporting a local franchisee was fine. Some of us thought we should just provide our own lunches. One colleague wondered why we were having so much conversation about the topic at all.
I said, "One day you're buying from a company that supports causes you don't believe in, and then you're buying clothes made by sweatshop child slaves, and where does it end? Before you know it, your mortal soul is in danger."
Our choice between ruin and salvation may come in a big challenge like Esther's, one where we recognize the stakes. But for most of us, the moral choices that we face will have much smaller stakes, and it may be easy to shrug off the seriousness of the choice--or perhaps we won't recognize that we're even making a choice. But we are. And once we get off trajectory, it can be very hard to get back on track.
Each day, we should ask ourselves and each other: "In what ways am I moving the world towards justice and peace? In what ways am I cohabitating with evil?"
God calls us to a grand vision of a redeemed creation--in what ways are we making that vision a reality?