Scripture: The Book of Esther
The story of Queen Esther and her intervention on behalf of her people is a story of Jewish survival in the face of pagan violence. It is also a story about one who is a model for those of us who are called to be faithful in unspectacular, though utterly essential ways today.
With Veteran’s Day being on Wednesday, November 11, I’m reminded of a story. A number of years ago when Taylor was in middle school, we took a trip to Washington, D.C. While there, we visited the impressive Iwo Jima monument, commemorating one of the bloodiest battles of WW II.
Iwo Jima, a tiny Island in the Pacific, was the setting in 1945 for a five-week, nonstop battle between 70,000 American Marines and an unknown number of deeply entrenched Japanese defenders. As you know, the courage and gallantry of our American forces was visually represented by the raising of the American flag over Mt. Suribachi. It is frozen in time forever in the magnificent Marine Corp monument along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.
Little known to most people, there was a Rabbi, Roland B. Gittelsohn, at Iwo Jima during the battle of 1945. He was the first Jewish chaplain ever appointed by the Marines. His job was not only to minister to the 1,500 Jewish Marines but to all of the soldiers on the Island.
When the fighting was over, Division Chaplain Warren Cuthriell, a Protestant minister, asked Rabbi Gittelsohn to deliver the memorial sermon at a combined religious service dedicating the Marine Cemetery. It was Cuthriell’s intent that all of the fallen Marines would be honored in a nondenominational observance—fallen soldiers, black, white, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish.
Sadly, a majority of the Christian chaplains said “no” to Rabbi Gittelsohn preaching. So three separate services were ordered to be held. There were three Protestant chaplains, so incensed by the prejudice voiced by their colleagues, that they boycotted their Christian service to attend Gittelsohn’s. They then borrowed the manuscript of his sermon and, unbeknownst to the Rabbi, circulated several thousand copies to his regiment.
This is what Rabbi Gittelsohn had to say in his eulogy:
Here lie men who loved America because their ancestor’s generations ago helped in her founding. And other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and Whites, rich men and poor, together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men, there is no discrimination. No prejudice. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy . . .
Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this then, as our solemn sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: To the right of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of White men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price . . .
We here solemnly swear this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.
Some Marines sent these words home to family. Time magazine published excerpts. Finally, the sermon was entered into the Congressional Record, and the Army released the eulogy for shortwave broadcast to American troops around the world. In 1995, in his last appearance before his death, Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn reread a portion of his original eulogy at the 50th anniversary commemoration ceremony at the Iwo Jima statue in Washington.
The story of Esther and this modern day story strongly suggests that we can never assume that the battle for tolerance and justice is over. Those of us who follow Jesus Christ must be ever diligent to stand up for what is right. We must continue to combat and fight against the darker side of human nature and believe with our heart and soul that all of humanity are God’s children.
Questions for the week
Consider journaling your responses to these questions:
What were some of the cultural norms and laws during the time of Esther that made it difficult for her to confront the king? What modern day cultural norms make it difficult for us sometimes as we try to address racism and other forms of injustice?
What do you think drive an evil person like Haman? How should we as Christian deal with someone like Haman?
What characteristics marked the life and behavior of Mordecai? How can we be like Mordecai, a man of character?
What strikes you about Esther’s character? What do we learn from Esther about courage and risk?
Can you remember a time when things seemed difficult or maybe even hopeless? How did God help you turn things around?
In one of The Story’s epic moments, Esther resolves to approach the king, reveal her national identity, and make an appeal for her people. There was great risk involved but she concluded, “If I perish, I perish.” Christians are called to “Take up their cross daily” and follow Jesus. What is a risk that God is calling you to take for him?
At the end of the story about Esther, we read that God did remove the danger of attack on the Jews by providing a chance for them to fight back and defend themselves. What battles are we being called to fight as Christians?
As you take time to pray, here are some ideas to get you started:
· Thank God that He is present on every page of your life, even if you don’t actually see Him.
· Ask for Wisdom to see when God has placed you in a specific place at a specific time to do something for Him. Let God know that you are ready and willing to follow.
· Pray for courage to stand for God when you face situations that are driven by injustice and evil.
Read for Next Week
Read Chapter 21.