Moments That Matter, Giving Heroism Another Look

Let’s get on to part two of Rancho Community Church (Murrieta) three-part series on the Book of Esther smartly billed as Moments that Matter. I was super excited to see Lauralyn Vasquez visit, teach, and preach in Murrieta campus for the first time. Although I wouldn’t describe Lauralyn as a humor-based, tongue-in-cheek presenter, a small aspect of her style very much reminds me of Anne Lamott. They both have a wholehearted, deep and practical sense of social needs and justice awareness —and it’s highly recognizable in the content of their messages. Lauralyn includes cleverly set digressions in her message. Her anecdotes are rich and evoking. She has a subtly dominant and yet endearing technique of reaching the audience. I hope she visits and preaches more in Murrieta.

Part 1 Moments That Matter, Book of Esther

The Book of Esther reveals what would look like the first recorded plan of the Jewish holocaust. If we are to follow this assertion, then Haman’s character parallels that of you know who.

Haman was an Agagite and the right hand to Xerxes the King of Persia. Later in the story’s twist, Mordecai would be elevated to the said position by the King himself. Persia was the conquering empire to the exiled people of Israel. Esther is the last book in the Bible that follows a linear narrative (Chronological storytelling). It is important to note that the setting of the book is in Susa, the capital of Persia. Also necessary to understand is that both protagonists in the book were not born or raised in the land of Israel.

In the series, we talk about Moments that Matter. Although the storyline primarily shines on Esther and Mordecai, there’s also a secondary story of female heroism in the book, Queen Vashti’s. Please understand that in ancient literature, heroism is regarded as something done that is bigger than expected and it’s not necessarily an act of sacrifice or giving your own life to benefit others.

Others may call Queen Vashti’s refusal of the King’s order as a display of prideful arrogance of a woman who doesn’t recognize her spousal and societal duty. Contextually, this isn’t the case. She actually acted boldly and fearlessly, and evidently punished for standing up for her conviction. What’s lost in most discussions is that her action paved an opening for Ester and her own display of boldness.

Queen Vashti’s bravery is a juxtaposition to Ester’s brand of courage. Queen Vashti is a full-grown woman while Esther is a young inexperienced teenage girl. Ester’s is conspiring and deceivingly passive. Queen Vashti chose her moment she would stand for even if it meant losing a crown, or potentially, her life. The individual stories of Queen Esther and the dislodged Queen Vashti teach us that heroism comes in various forms.

The ”when to speak” part simply means to choose for the moments to stand for. Frankly, it’s a tall order for such a young girl. Given the times Ester was exposed to, she had to grow up fast. She didn’t just have to learn to navigate through and around despicable moments but she also had to do terrible things to survive and be the heroine her adoptive parent expected her to be. Speaking of him, it is easy to judge Mordecai as complicit to the pimping of his adoptive daughter. In a world where you are held as captive people, what would you have done? Mordecai and Esther will both choose which moments to stand for.

Lauralyn touched a little bit on social justice, on adoption and its life-changing moments, and the response to social needs. She puts out a call to be a consistent champion for someone needing of championing. Like how she sees Mordecai was for Ester.

One of the major things that Mordecai impressed upon Esther was the importance of having the proficiency to gauge when to speak and when to be silent. Lauralyn brought up a clear distinction on the type of silence Mordecai refers to in his mentorship of Esther—when to be silent. I will expound a little on this. The skill of knowing when to be silent is strategic. And it pertains to the gift of shrewdness, not of indifference or subservient quietude. The silence Mordecai taught to Esther, in a narrative and logical perspective should be understood in a tactical sense. In the story, we see not just Esther but also Mordecai choosing their moments of fortuitous silence.

If it were for the critics of the Book of Esther, this book wouldn’t have been included in the Bible because God wasn’t mentioned in it. There were no allusions to prayers and faithful devotion to God. Many have looked at the character of God (Yahweh or Lord) as silent, meaning absent, in the Book of Esther. But is this really the case? Was God truly absent in the narrative? Was this writing technique deliberate on the part of the author? What was the author’s intention? Who wrote Esther? What do we know of the Hebrew literary style of writing?

If we were to count on the thematic elements used by Esther’s author to convey important points, then we have to follow where the storytelling bounces.

In case you may be interested in pursuing an in-depth study of Hebrew literary style of writing, here’s a link to the 411-page dissertation prepared by a Ph.D. candidate in Biblical Languages, David Mark Health, https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/37326772.pdf

IMPORTANT ELEMENTS TO BIBLE READING

The Bible cannot be approached in a one-dimensional reading direction. Recognizing the genres, techniques used in the passage, and the connection of the part to the totality of the narrative is a must.

The Bible is a three-genre story. It’s a collection and redaction of ancient scrolls designed to fit as a single-construct novel of 66 books that were written by over 44 authors in three continents over a span of 1500 years. It is God-inspired, not a God. The Bible is not a Holy Book. It is a book, although it’s one of a kind in its assembly. It is history, theology, and literature combined.

1. Historical Writing (it depicts the journey of the exiled Hebrew people in search of its national identity and its land),

2. Theology (it describes the relationship between God and humans), and

3. Literature (it commits to period-writing styles and inspirations, and employs writing devices such as characterization, imageries, symbols, invented speeches, culturally-evoked stories, monologues, and epical depictions).

It’s important to point out that the Bible is NOT a story of the battle between God’s providential nature and humankind’s free will. In the study and reading, you will find that the Bible evokes paradoxical narration. It has both the action of the Divine Providence and the Freewill of humans present in the storytelling.

Another important learning mechanism that I encourage readers to employ in their study of the Bible is developing the skill to properly distinguish between historicized literature and actual historical writing. Think of it as watching a movie or a theatrical play. Historicized literature or historical fiction narrates a story in a historical narrative style for a believable effect. It’s a reconstruction of past events or inclusion of a historical figure in a made-up anecdote, scenes, and overall plot to present an interesting and credible reading effect to the audience. Although there may be details or characters that are probably real, it doesn’t mean that the entirety of the passage itself conveys an actual historical truth. The narrative goal isn’t about historical accuracy. Rather, the author’s intention is to evoke an emotional and intellectual reaction from the audience about a particular theme or discussion point.

As informed and learned readers, we should be able to, at the very least, examine the prose for its narrative intentions. Remember, the Bible’s world is a close narrative, operating only within three continents and selected races of people. Any critical and mindful learner would know that the ancient world expands wider than just three continents. From just leaning on basic knowledge of high school history, anybody would know that neither one of the conquering empires in the Bible invaded the Shang Dynasty or that of the Inca and Mayan civilizations. These three weren’t in the storytelling of the Bible but the races of people from these civilizations existed in humankind’s history. I lay all these informative facts for us to mindfully consider and reflect as we individually and collectively learn about the Scriptures.

Ignoring facts puts the reader and learner in a path towards a false understanding of the passages.

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