Psalm 38:9–16; Esther 1; Romans 8:9–19

Psalm 38:1–16: The psalmist is sick unto death–an illness that consumes him internally–“My innards are consumed with burning” (8a)–and externally: “My sores make a stench, have festered” (6a). One thinks of Job. As so many have done, and continue to do, he blames his illness “through my folly.” (6)

He is near death, “My heart spins around, my strength forsakes me/ and the light of my eyes, too, is gone from me.” (11). He has abandoned by his family and friends in his hour of need: “My friends and companions stand off from my plight. / and my kinsmen stand far away.” (12). But perhaps worst of all, his enemies begin conniving and plotting: “They lay snares, who seek my life and want my harm./ They speak lies, utter deceit all day long.” (13) But he is so ill, he hears them only at a distance, “But like the deaf I do not hear.” (14a) It is difficult to think of more dire straits than these. illness, abandonment, conspiracy.

Everything in the psalmist’s world is lost; only one hope remains: “For in You, O Lord, I have hoped.” And in that hope is the core of assurance: “You will answer, O master, my God.” (16) This psalm strips life of every element that we depend on: health, family, friends. They are ephemeral, untrustworthy. In the end, there is only God in whom we can place our trust. As I know from personal experience with illness, it quickly strips away the masks, pretensions, and false gods in our lives. Only our hope in a loving God remains.

Esther 1: The story of Esther is like an intermezzo in an opera. A short respite from the sturm und drang of the main plot. A story rich in plotting and duplicity, but in the end an inspiring story of heroism on the part of a courageous woman.

This chapter lays out the scene. “King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in the citadel of Susa” (2) and decides to give a week-long party. The author describes the richness of the setting (almost like an opera stage!): “There were white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings[b] and marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones.” (6) Eventually the king becomes “merry with wine” and in his drunkenness commands his eunuchs to bring in Queen Vashti. But the queen refuses.

As a result, Vashti is banished from the court, and an order goes out “let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.” (19). The stage is set for the reminder of the story.

But there is a disturbing subtext in the king’s decree: “all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.” (20) And an official declaration of patriarchy goes out “declaring that every man should be master in his own house.” (22). Here is one of those dangerous passages that too easily can be ripped out of its cultural context–and I’m sure it has been–to be used in unjustified ways for husbands to oppress wives. By contrast, Paul’s admonitions of marital relations are a model of restraint and enlightenment.

Romans 8:9–19: I think Paul is responsible for the original definition of zombies: earlier in the chapter he has equated the ‘flesh” with being the walking dead. There is only one way in which we are alive: “the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (9) Life comes only through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit: “if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (10)

If we reject that life and “if [we] live according to the flesh, [we] will die.” (13). But then Paul does something remarkable: it is best that “by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body.” Only by rejecting our sinful fleshliness will we ultimately live. OK, but then the Spirit does something remarkable. We are transformed: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (14). Like Christ, we die to the flesh and rise (through baptism, I presume) as children of God, imbued by the Holy Spirit.

It is in this newly transformed state that we can cry, “Abba! Father!” (15) because “it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (16) And by virtue of becoming family members, we become “heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (17). Today, this seems so routine because we have heard it so often. But think of the impact on Paul’s listeners. This is an unbelievably revolutionary concept. Never before have any humans become part of God’s family.There has always been that strong distinction and separation between God and his creation. That was certainly true of Judiasm. But now, through the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit we have become family members.

But family members–even members of God’s family–are not exempt from suffering: in fact, suffering comes with the territory: “we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (17). Paul encourages his listeners by reminding them–and us, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (18). This is a stark reminder that by becoming children in God’s family that we may, in fact, have to endure greater suffering than otherwise might have been the case.

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