Do you know the story of Queen Esther? Esther is a book of the Bible that reads like a novel. It’s got heroes and villains, romance, intrigue, drama, you name it. In fact, it’s such an important story that its events are celebrated to this day by the Jewish holiday, Purim.
During a recent read through the book of Esther, a new question jumped out at me that I can’t seem to shake. Before I get to that, let me walk you through the story.
Esther is a beautiful young woman from the humble Hebrew people, being raised by her uncle Mordecai after the death of her parents. Esther wins an extended beauty contest to become the next wife of Xerxes, the King of Persia. It’s a classic rags-to-riches story!
But the story is just getting started. Esther’s uncle Mordecai draws the ire of a powerful leader named Haman — the King’s second-in-command — because Mordecai won’t bow down to Haman. In fact, Haman grows to hate Mordecai so much that he comes up with a plan to kill not just Mordecai, but all of the Hebrew people. But there’s a twist: Neither Haman nor King Xerxes has any idea that Queen Esther is Mordecai’s niece and a Hebrew herself.
Unaware, King Xerxes follows Haman’s suggestion and orders the mass killing of the Hebrew people. But before the genocide can be carried out, Queen Esther intervenes in dramatic fashion, risking her own safety. She reveals that she herself is a Hebrew, and that Haman has led King Xerxes to destroy her people.
The tables turn quickly! King Xerxes is outraged that someone would want to harm his beloved wife. Haman is revealed to be the villain and quickly meets his own destruction. Mordecai, Queen Esther, and the Hebrew people are saved by the King’s reversal of his order of genocide. A massive celebration ensues.
It’s a dramatic, powerful story. But here is the truth I’d never considered before. Read it slowly. King Xerxes’ ability to look the other way at great injustice toward an entire group of people, was quickly reversed only when he realized that that injustice affected someone he cared about and knew personally. Nothing changed about the injustice. What changed was a relationship.
We care about injustice most, when it affects someone we know personally. We might not want it to be true, but it is.
The question here is — do I have personal relationships with those who are different from me? With those who may be affected by injustice that does not affect me? Sit with those questions for a while.
Michelle Alexander in her powerful book The New Jim Crow highlights a question so simple, yet devastatingly convicting, that it’s continued to haunt me. That question is not whether mass incarceration disproportionately affects people of color. Alexander clearly lays out that evidence in her book. The question is: Do I care? And I would add to that as we consider King Xerxes: Do I personally know anyone who is affected?
This isn’t just a question around mass incarceration. It applies to any number of issues that overwhelmingly affect those in poverty or minority groups — childhood trauma, or hunger, or violence, or lower life expectancy. But we need to consider whether, like King Xerxes, our ability to ignore injustice or look away would dramatically change if we personally knew — if we cared about — someone from that community.
My challenge for myself and all of us is this: If we want to change the world, maybe like Queen Esther, we should start with an unlikely relationship.
by Faith Bosland is the ACTS/United for Kids Coordinator at Think Tank, Inc and the newest member of the Think Tank team. You can contact Faith at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Think Tank’s work, visit thinktank-inc.org.
Photo Credit: Dennis Brendel | Unsplash