Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lessons from Mordecai for Ash Wednesday

A post by Bill Mefford

Although I grew up in the church, Ash Wednesday has been a new thing for me. Of course, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and falls 46 days before Easter. Ash Wednesday is meant to represent a day of repentance and is seen by the mark of ashes on the forehead in the sign of the cross.

The use of ashes to represent a time of mourning is seen in numerous examples in Scripture, but the instance in the book of Esther draws my attention for a number of reasons, including it's correlation to so much of what is happening in our current context regarding the issue of immigration.

In Esther 4, Mordecai, uncle to the beautiful Esther, refuses to bow before the powerful Haman. Haman had schemed his way to being the number 2 man in the Assyrian Kingdom. Deeply offended at not being given appropriate respect, Haman abuses his close access to the ruling King, and manipulates him into issuing an edict condemning all Jews to death. It is a genocide because one man refused to subvert his loyalty to God for loyalty to his ruling authorities.

Upon hearing the announcement of the dreadful edict, Mordecai, along with every province in the Kingdom where the edict was read (who says community organizers aren't in the Bible?) put on sackcloth and ashes and publicly mourned. Mordecai resists the temptation to allow state-sponsored terror and repression to drive him inward. Instead, he and others in every province engage in a very public protest.

Yet, even in the midst of his protest against the edict, the writer is very clear that Mordecai only went as far as the entrance to the King's gate, but could not go any further, "for no one might enter the king's gate clothed in sackcloth." (v. 2) It is fascinating to me that Mordecai has risked not only his own life, but the lives of his people in honoring God over Haman, but then refuses to break this particular law.

Perhaps it is here that we see the real difference between Haman and Mordecai. Haman, so easily offended by the refusal of a single man to bow to him, makes himself the focus of this incident and so his understanding of justice is deeply twisted and swewed. Mordecai, on the other hand, does nothing to spite Haman, and even in the most extreme distress, goes to great lengths to ensure that his message and actions are about the terrible injustice being done to an entire race of people. He cares about the issues and the people directly affected by the issue. Haman only cares about the issues as to how it affects and impacts himself.

There is much to glean from this passage on thie Ash Wednesday regarding the current context we are in. To be godly is to follow the example of Mordecai and the many others in provinces who publicly mourned in protest against unjust laws. With Arizona's SB 1070 leading the way, and with federal enforcement policies like 287g and Secure Communities, we live in a land that is deeply repressive to our immigrant sisters and brothers. But like, Mordecai, our focus must be on those directly affected by the issue and resist making ourselves the center of our concern.

And we live with far too many Hamans in our state and federal legislatures, and sadly, in the Church. We have far too many people who do not look for how the most vulnerable are impacted by these unjust laws and over-enforcement policies, but instead, they think only of themselves. They are easily offended and will lash out in unrighteous anger towards anyone and everyone they deem responsible for that offense (despite what the facts may say).

We need to recognize the Hamans in our communities and on the national scale and follow Mordecai's example with them by refusing to pay them homage. On Ash Wednesday, we follow the mournful, but powerful Mordecai. Like Mordecai, our mourning will not end in self-pity or morose introspection. Our mourning will give way to action and our action gives us hope. Though we know that the dawn of Easter will replace the long, dark night we currently are in, we mourn now on Ash Wednesday, as Mordecai did. Sadly, as Mordecai painfully realized, we mourn the failure of a government to protect the most vulnerable in our society. But, as Mordecai shows us, let our cries of sorrow be the seed of protest that triggers the movement for justice that erases the terror and repression so many of our brothers and sisters are enduring now.

1 comment:

  1. Dont' forget the role of Vashti! Thanks, Bill, for this reflection.