But the Greatest of These Is Love

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ESTHER 8:1-10:3 | 1 CORINTHIANS 12:27-13:13 | PSALM 37:1-11 | PROVERBS 21:23-24

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We continue with the fascinating story of Esther, and having learned of how Haman’s plan to kill the Jews was foiled by Esther, the queen, and her cousin, Mordecai, we learn today of how Esther is also successful at having the king’s decree overturned with another royal decree that preserves the right of the Jews to assemble and defend themselves as necessary. 

This is a great victory to the Jewish people, and there is great rejoicing over this.  Also, Mordecai is installed over Haman’s estate, and evidently plays an important role in the king’s court. 

The text tells us this:  15 When Mordecai left the king’s presence, he was wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen. And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration. 16 For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor. 17 In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.

Furthermore, the Jewish people’s future has been secured, thanks to the initiative and foresight of these two individuals:  Mordecai and Esther.  And in remembrance of the victory that is gained at this time, these two days are established as Purim. 

The text tells us this about the origin of this Jewish holiday:  20 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

Esther was a brave young woman who saw her place and position in history to be one that would make a difference in the lives of her people.  From an orphan girl, she became the queen of Persia, won the favor of the king, and took action to preserve and improve the lot of her people. Esther was used by God in the greater plan and purpose for the Jewish people, and for this, she is remembered. 

The text goes on to tell us this29 So Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter concerning Purim. 30 And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom—words of goodwill and assurance— 31 to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation. 32 Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records.

And as for Mordecai, this is what the text tells us3 Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.

Turning now to our reading in the first book of Corinthians, we come upon chapter 13, also known as the ‘love chapter’ because Paul has so very beautifully presented this concept of love as it is to be understood and defined for the believer. 

Paul is continuing in his exhortation to recognize and value each person’s gift for the unique thing that it is, given that each gift comes from the Spirit, however, he deems it necessary to pause and take one large step back in order to make the all-important point that no matter what gift any of us might be endowed with, unless it is exhibited in love, it is meaningless, i.e., it is nothing.  Plain and simple. 

It doesn’t matter how good you are, or how much good you do:  if it is not done in a spirit of love, it is as good as nothing!  So powerful a chapter is this in the canon of literature that comprises the letters of Paul, nay, the entire New Testament, that I reproduce it here in its entirety:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully,even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Turning now to our psalm of the day, we find David, the poet-king of Israel, giving out sound advice on how to negotiate the ups and downs of life.  His advice is timeless, and even this, I cannot help but reproduce the entire chapter for our benefit:

1 Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;

2 for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.

3 Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

4 Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:

6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.

7 Be still before the LORD
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.

8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.

9 For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.

10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.

11 But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.

Finally, one important verse from the book of Proverbs that would behoove each one of us to pay attention to:

23 Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.

May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.

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