Proper 21 (Yr B) – 9/30/12

15 Sep

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22

or Track 2  Psalm 19:7-14 & Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29

James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50


Psalm 124

Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

 Opening Exercise

Consider the following question:

  • When you encounter a situation in which someone is doing wrong, what is the catalyst sufficient to drive you into action to stop it?

 Appointed Passages

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22

1 So the king and Ha’man went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 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.” 3 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. 4 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.” 5 Then King Ahasue’rus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6 Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Ha’man!” Then Ha’man was terrified before the king and the queen.

9 Then Harbo’na, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Ha’man has prepared for Mor’decai, whose word saved the king, stands at Ha’man’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Ha’man on the gallows that he had prepared for Mor’decai. Then the anger of the king abated.

9:20 Mor’decai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasue’rus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month A’dar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 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.

{Montreal Commentary: This book is a novella set in Persia during the Exile. Ahasuerus (probably Xerxes I, 486-464 BC) the king has banished Queen Vashti for disobedience. Esther, a Jewish orphan, has been brought up by her cousin, Mordecai. When the king seeks a new queen, Mordecai offers her as a candidate, without revealing that she is Jewish. She is chosen. Mordecai then discovers a plot to assassinate the king; he tells Esther, who tips off the king. Ahasuerus’ life is spared. The king makes Haman his vizier (prime minister). Custom required all to bow to the vizier, but Mordecai refuses to do so, so Haman plots to destroy Mordecai, who has now revealed that he is a Jew. Haman decides to destroy all Jews, not just Mordecai. A date for the slaughter is set by lot (Akkadian: pur). Haman gains the king’s consent for his plan: Haman argues that “their laws are different from those of every other people …” (3:8). He even offers a bribe to those who will kill Jews. A royal decree is sent out by courier to all the land. Through a servant, Esther learns of the plot. At Mordecai’s urging, she risks her life by going into the presence of the king uninvited, to make a request of him. The king agrees that she may ask him at a banquet. Meanwhile, Haman prepares a gallows on which to hang Mordecai – on the date set by lot. The king recalls that Mordecai saved his life, and says that he intends to honour someone (but doesn’t say whom); Haman thinks he is the one to be honoured.}

  • What was wrong in what Haman was planning to do?  Who specifically were the others who were his “accomplises” in order for this bad act to be realized – and would their actions have been wrong also?
  • Was the king justified in killing Haman?

James 5: 13-20

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 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. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 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. 17 Eli’jah 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. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 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.

  • How are prayer and forgiveness connected?
  • Even when prayers are not directly answered, what are the benefits of making them?
  • What is the distinction between arbitrarily imposing your ideas on others (usually not good) and saving a sinner from wandering (a good thing)?

Mark 9:38-50

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 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. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 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.

42 “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. 43 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. 45 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. 47 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, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 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.”

{According to the Montreal Commentary: In vv. 49-50, “salt” has three meanings:

  • in v. 49, it means purified, as ore is purified to metal in a furnace; before Christ comes again, we will be purified through persecution and suffering;
  • In v. 50a, “salt” is a seasoning agent; the disciples are the salt of the earth, the agents of spirituality; if we lose our effectiveness in proclaiming God’s word, what use are we?
  • In v. 50b, “salt” is distinctive character: this matters, but so does harmony in the community.}

Questions for this reading –

  • What constitutes “putting a stumbling block” before someone in the religious sense?
  • The second paragraph seems to suggest separating yourself from those who are not aligned with your Christian principles.  When is this action appropriate?


It is ironic that we have on the same day the message from Jesus of tolerance for the methods of others whom we may not understand and the story in Esther of the seeming intolerance of both Haman, who had planned to kill a large number of Jews, and the King who had him put to death.

The question that emerges to me is how to distinguish when to be patient versus when to confront.  Said in another way, when we encounter difficult life choices or events that stretch the limits of our decision making judgment, how do we evaluate the fundamental motives for ourselves and others and what actions are appropriate given our moral principles?  I think this process is helpful to formulating the right path but not an easy one.

So how do you get to know someone thoroughly enough to understand who they are and what drives them?  Where is the set of questions and score sheet that tallies up the green light versus the red one?  Perhaps most importantly, are we teaching our children and the next generation our values in a way that will give them strength of religious and moral conviction?

I attended a presentation some time ago by a former accountant who, after many years of seasoning, became a specialist in forensic accounting and fraud detection.  The presentation he provided contained numerous examples of people making choices that were morally wrong, but gave them some advantage.  Perhaps the most disturbing were the studies of high school and college students regarding academic cheating and telling lies.  These surveys point to a remarkable rise in the proportions of kids who have no qualms about lying or cheating.  Worse yet is that some surveys produce the responses that they don’t see any moral conflict in doing so.

Our future would seem to have significant challenges assuming these surveys are indeed representative of today’s young people.  I walked out of the presentation with a sense that I simply cannot look at the world and people in the same way as when I entered that room.  The saying “Trust but verify” has for me almost has become “verify before you trust”  simply on the basis of that talk.  I feel an incredible need to be more confrontational with regard to beliefs than I can recall.

My prayer for all of us is that we grasp the core of our spirituality and love for humanity in order to grow toward a more purposeful and moral existence.  Even further, that we not only expect, but demand the same from those who are close to us by gently probing and openly discussing our moral framework .  We will all be better for the effort.

Quotes for Today:

Everything you now do is something you have chosen to do. Some people don’t want to believe that. But if you’re over age twenty-one, your life is what you’re making of it. To change your life, you need to change your priorities.

John C. Maxwell

We should not permit tolerance to degenerate into indifference.

Margaret Chase-Smith

I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.

Hellen Keller


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