Psalm 38:17–22; Esther 2:1–18; Romans 8:20–33

Psalm 38:17–22: Our psalmist’s illness and constant pain, “I am ripe for stumbling / and my pain is before me always” (18) places him in a even more vulnerable position, “And my wanton enemies grow many,/ my unprovoked foes abound.” (20) In fact, they seem to be winning despite his best efforts to walk the path of righteousness: “And those who pay back good with evil/ thwart me for pursuing good.” (21)

Unlike many psalms of supplication that end on a hopeful note that recognizes God’s presence, this one ends in a desperate plea. Unlike Psalm 23 that ends on the assurance God is always present even in the darkest times, here there is only silence. We hear only the psalmist’s voice seeming to trail off into hopelessness.  In some ways this psalm seems even more appropriate in our time when God seems absent. With the psalmist, we raise our voices to heaven, pleading, “Hasten to my help,/ O master of my rescue.” And then, only silence.

Esther 2:1–18: So, King Ahasuerus runs something like a beauty contest to find a new queen. Needless to say, many women would like that position and “many young women were gathered in the citadel of Susa in custody of Hegai.” (8). Esther, Mordecai’s niece, is among them. Hegai likes her  and “he quickly provided her with her cosmetic treatments and her portion of food.” (9). Esther keeps her Jewish lineage secret.

One has the feeling this book was written by a woman, because I’m not sure a male would have gone into the specifics about Esther’s 12 months of cosmetic treatment: “six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics for women.” (12) [Which also tells us there is nothing new about make-up.] As part of the trial to find out if she was acceptable, Esther goes in to the king [“goes in’ being the code for “had sex with”] and then returns back to a second harem. Unless the woman in this harem was asked for subsequently by name, the party was over.

But Esther was beautiful, “admired by all who saw her.” (15) She goes into the king, “ the king loved Esther more than all the other women” and the king “set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” (17). A party and a general holiday follows.

So is this just a cool story, or is there something deeper going on here? We could probably summon symbolic parallels to how King Ahasuerus symbolizes God and Esther the Jewish people. But my inclination is to dispense with theology and just sit back and enjoy this marvelous story.

Romans 8:20–33: After all, if it’s theology we want, Paul provides it in spades as he now expands his thesis of sinful man being doomed to die to into an exposition about the universe and everything: “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (21) In other words, Paul is anticipating that the work of Christ has started the process of an entirely new creation, free of sin and decay. But it’s not going to be an easy or speedy process as he compares it to a woman giving birth: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” (22)

As for those who believe, “in hope we were saved.” (24). But, as Paul points out, hope is by definition invisible, so this wonderful new perfect creation–including our perfected selves– is not yet visible: it’s off in the future. That’s why we suffer as “we wait for it in patience.” (24)

But as we wait the Holy Spirit is at work “helping us in our weakness” in us in ways we cannot fully comprehend, “for [example,] we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (26)

Paul gives us a clear, if not completely comprehensible, picture of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and God–and ourselves: “God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (27) And because of this relationship, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (28). A verse that has been of enormous encouragement to many, but is also subject to misinterpretation. It’s not “all things work together for good,” but “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

So what’s the point of “called according to his purpose?” For me it simply means that God has called us not only because he loves us, but that he gives us purpose–God’s purpose–to our lives. As for Paul’s explanation about predestination and the “elect,” I leave that to theologians to argue.

Rather, I will focus on the impact that God has on our lives: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (31) God gave us his son, so “will he not with him also give us everything else?” (32) Those are word that do not require a theologian to interpret. In today’s readings, the psalmist’s plea is eventually answered by Paul. God has been here in our hearts the entire time.


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