Lectionary Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Cover ArtThis excerpt comes from Esther & Daniel (BTCB) by Samuel Wells and George Sumner, with Samuel Wells commenting on Esther 7:1-6, 9-10

Now comes Esther’s next brilliant status move. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace. She elevates Ahasuerus to astronomically high status, as one who, despite his deep affection for his queen, is not to be troubled by the trifling information that she is to become a slave. She has maneuvered the dialogue into a place of two contrasting status realities, and the contradiction between them is unbearable. On the one hand she is about to be liquidated, as a member of a people surplus to imperial requirements; on the other hand the king adores her and has said he will do anything for her. The problem was hers: it now becomes his.

But she gives him a get-out: No enemy can compensate for this damage to the king. In other words, she plays on one consistent feature of the king’s personality throughout the book: his inability to see his own agency in the turn of events. It was not the king, she suggests, that brought about this state of affairs—she has no interest in humiliating him. The only sense in which she wants him to be low status is his devotion to her. In all other respects it is about time he really did assume the high-status expectations of his role.

It was an enemy who brought this about. The king gobbles down Esther’s version of the story, which enables him to be her protector and gives him a chance to assert his high status in a moment of crisis: Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this? The word presumed is crucial, since it elevates Esther’s status and in the process elevates Ahasuerus’s own status even further.

Now for the coup de grâce. Esther, while remaining vulnerable and thus low status, makes the most of Ahasuerus’s gesture to elevate her status and identifies the source of the threat, which is now not just to her and her people but to the king as well. A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman! She and the king are now one like never before, and as a result Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

There is no sign that Ahasuerus yet appreciates Esther’s true identity—it was only after Haman’s death that Esther told the king what Mordecai was to her—but there can be little doubt that Haman now realizes it all.

….Haman panics and makes a drastic low-status attempt to plead to the queen for his life. By the time the king returns, Haman had thrown himself on the couch where Esther was reclining. Haman has done nothing illegal, and by retaining his status he could have talked his way out of it. But by losing status from his own volition at the key moment he makes himself look guilty, leaving aside the misinterpretation of his advance on the queen.

The king, of course, imagines things only in sexual terms. Haman’s status plunges further into the abyss, as he is impaled not only in front of his own house but, on account of the height of the gallows, in front of the whole city.



©2013 by Samuel Wells and George Sumner. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.