‘The king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.’ (3.15)
The story of Esther is rich in humour, insight into human nature, and in faith. All of these are worthy of a blog in their own right. But as I was reading the story this week I was struck by two mostly ignored incidents that involve the king.
The first is the massive party he throws to celebrate the ‘wealthy, majesty, and pomp’ of his kingdom. It’s a week long blow-out including binge eating and drinking. Greek authors mention lavish Persian parties which especially emphasized drinking. And it ends badly for his queen, Vashti, when king Ahasuerus decides to treat her like she is another of his prize possessions to show off at his desire. She refuses and is stripped of her role.
The second party takes place in chapter 3 when Haman, hater of the Jews, hatches a plot to destroy them. He convinces the king to sign an edict which gives his subjects licence to ‘destroy, kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day….’ And then these words struck me. We read that after the murderous decree goes out ‘the king and Haman sat down to drink….’ (3.15)
How true this is, sometimes, of leadership. They declare war, send out young people to do the killing while they sit down to feast.
Douglas Haig, leader of the British Armed Forces in World War l never missed a chapel service; he was by all reports strictly devout. Haig saw himself as God’s servant and was keen to have clergymen sent out to the trenches whose sermons would remind the men that the war dead were martyrs in a just cause. On one horrendous day – July 1, 2016 at Somme, 57,000 British troops, mostly young 18-25 years old, died.
Or, to take a contemporary example, consider the use of drone warfare. In the U.S. military planners routinely have described this kind of warfare as a good alternative to conventional warfare. The sanitized language that public officials have used to describe drone strikes (“pinpoint,” “surgical”) has played into the perception that drones have turned warfare into a costless and bloodless exercise. Instead of risking more casualties, drones have fostered the alluring prospect that terrorism can be eliminated with the push of a button, a function performed by “joystick warriors” engaged in an activity as carefree and impersonal as a video game.
But the reality is quite different. Christopher Aaron used to work 12-hour shifts in a windowless room at the Counterterrorism Airborne Analysis Center in Langley, Va. He sat before a wall of flat-screen monitors that beamed live, classified video feeds from drones hovering in distant war zones. But as time went on, something strange happened: He began to fall apart physically. The distress began with headaches, night chills, joint pain. Soon, more debilitating symptoms emerged — waves of nausea, eruptions of skin welts, chronic digestive problems. Aaron had always prided himself on his physical fitness, but suddenly he felt frail. continuing this work was out of the question. Every time he sat down to try, “my hands stopped working — I was feverish, sick, nauseous.”
At night, he dreamed that he could see — up close, in real time — innocent people being maimed and killed, their bodies dismembered, their faces contorted in agony. In one recurring dream, he was forced to sit in a chair and watch the violence. If he tried to avert his gaze, his head would be jerked back into place, so that he had to continue looking. “It was as though my brain was telling me: Here are the details that you missed out on,” he said. “Now watch them when you’re dreaming.” [New York Times, June 13, 2018 accessed online]
‘And the politicians and generals sat down to eat and drink!’
On this Peace Sunday let us give thanks for the peace and freedom from warfare that we enjoy. But let us also remember the cost of our peace and the sometimes questionable ways in which our peace is achieved, at the expense of others’ suffering. And let us, as disciples of the peace-making Christ, be vigilant to live, advocate for, and practice peace, always.
PRAYER: ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.’ Amen