Reflection on the Lectionary Sunday 26th September (Ordinary 26)

Psalm 124; Esther 7: 1 – 6, 9 – 10; James 5: 13 – 20; Mark 9: 38 – 50 This reflection is provided by Local Preacher Dottie North (Victoria).

The ancient world was full of stories in which the threatened hero or heroine is rescued at last, and the people who had almost overcome them are condemned instead. David kills Goliath. Homer’s heroes – some of them anyway – defeat their rivals after tense battles. The Son of Man is exalted, the Beast destroyed. Plenty of plays and novels follow the same line. The story of the twentieth century is told in similar terms: think of Hitler, or Mussolini.

So why do we find Esther 7 so hard to take? The vengeance is stark and shocking. Haman is hanged on the gallows he’d prepared for Mordecai, Esther’s uncle. Rough justice at best, we think, at worst a bad-tempered lynching. Haman had of course “asked for it.” He had plotted a major pogrom against a large and widespread Jewish community. Not for nothing have twentieth century Jews felt history repeating itself, with Hitler partially succeeding where Haman failed. But what does the Gospel say?

Well, perhaps not exactly what we might think. Is the worm turning in our sensibilities, as some theologians remind us that being nice to everybody, seeking reconciliation at any price, has to be balanced by naming and dealing with evil? Events in South Africa, in Northern Ireland, in our lifetime, have shown us that the reconciliation process needed to include the recognition that evil had occurred before forgiveness and healing could take place.

James, in his letter, urges those in the early church to call out wrong-doing and to pray, as “the prayer of a godly person is powerful.” And in Mark 9, with its tender care for “these little ones who believe in me,” there are ominous and uncomfortable words about millstones around necks and unquenchable fire.

Often throughout history the awareness of God, or even of the people of God, brings out the worst in some people and they commit atrocities in the attempt to turn people away from their faith. We can think of many examples of this happening across the world just now, and we despair. Leaving vengeance to God, as Paul instructs in Romans 12: 19 – 21 was a revolutionary concept then and still remains so for us……and yet we should not deny that evil is real and that God hates it and will, in his own time defeat it. So, as people of the living and all-powerful God, may we continue to call out evil and injustice, not seeking revenge, but praying for enlightenment, repentance, and peace.

Lord God, make us a passionate people: passionate to pursue your loving justice; passionately opposed to all that obscures the hope, destroys the purpose and denies the reconciliation that is your will for your world. Amen.