RISKING EVERYTHING

Scripture for reflection: The Book of Esther

We are surrounded by dazzling power. The Persian empire is at its height, one hundred and twenty seven provinces from Ethiopia to India. At the centre of power is Ahasuerus, king in his capital at Susa.

The empire is celebrating a royal marriage. The emperor has chosen a bride. Esther, niece of a prominent Jewish leader named Mordecai, has been elevated to a position of immense influence.

Precisely at this moment Esther’s life becomes complicated by a threat to the Jewish community. A dangerous and powerful member of the court named Haman is determined to institute a pogrom that will have tragic consequences. To read Haman’s words to the king is to hear the chilling patterns of anti-Semitism down the centuries.

“There are a certain people scattered and separated in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people. They do not keep the king’s laws, so it is not appropriate for the king to tolerate them”. Only after this careful and nuanced statement does Haman lay bare his real intention in plain and brutal language. “If it please the king,” he continues, “let a decree be issued for their destruction”.

The king agrees, opening the way to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

Mordecai desperately contacts his niece. Only she can get the king to rescind his decree. The request deeply distresses her. She has not revealed to the king that she is Jewish. Now she must choose between losing everything or remain silent while her people are destroyed.

Through a messenger Esther contacts her uncle. He responds by sending her the documents that Haman has written that condemn all Jews to death. Esther responds. Her reply is full of anxiety and helplessness. She cannot go to the king unless he summons her. Again Mordecai replies. His note is stern and adamant. Its language is chillingly modern, echoing many voices that spoke before and during Hitler’s holocaust.

“Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish”. Then, with unerring precision Mordechai pinpoints the heart of the matter for Esther. “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this”.

This magnificent message with its implied reference to Esther’s own integrity has the desired effect. Esther agrees to go to the king. She makes it clear that she has no illusions about the possible consequences. “I will go to the king”, she writes to her uncle, “even though it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.”

Three days later Esther makes her move. Dressing in the grandeur of her royal robes, she waits in a gallery where the king is likely to see her. Her plan succeeds. Esther does not bring up the subject of the pogrom at this point. Instead she asks that the king invite Haman to a banquet that is being planned. . During the banquet the king asks Esther the nature of her request. Without mentioning the king’s own decree she offers evidence for Haman’s hatred and treachery as the real reason for the threat to her people.

Hastily the king rescinds his decree, sending messages across the empire. Haman is summarily executed. Esther’s uncle Mordechai is given the royal signet ring that makes him a powerful figure at court.

In this long ago political struggle, scripture gives us a glimpse of a people struggling to survive. It also introduces us to a courageous and resourceful young woman who placed duty above personal gain, even above personal survival.

Herbert O’Driscoll

Letter From an Expatriate

Rome 60 A.D.

Scriptures for reflection: Mark 15:15 – 25

My dear sons,

Springtime in Rome is so incredibly beautiful . Warms the bones of an old man. Why this letter now? Because I want to set down, for my beloved grandchildren, the event that changed all our lives, now thirty years ago. You two know it well but, as I said, its for your children, Julia and Drusus, Agrippina and Simon. Continue reading “Letter From an Expatriate”

Risking The Tide

By Herb O’Driscoll

Place: Iona
Time: Spring 801 A.D.

Early in the sailing season of the year 801 A.D. small groups of Viking warships slid out of the harbours of Avaldsnes and Skiringsalr in southern Norway. One of those squadrons headed due west for the Orkneys, then sailed around the north coast of Scotland through the Hebrides and the Shetlands until they reached Iona. The other sailed southwest for Lindisfarne. As they terrorized the small coastal communities the news of their cruelty went ahead of them. Continue reading “Risking The Tide”

Letter from Nazareth

by Herbert O’Driscoll

Scriptures for Reading: Luke 1:39-56

Dearest Cousin Elizabeth,
I apologize for not sending this letter earlier. I was exhausted from the journey home and simply had to rest for the last few days.

I think about you and pray for you constantly because I know you were very near to giving birth when I had to leave. As you know, I had no choice when the caravan came through the village and told us there wouldn’t be another for nearly a month. However I could see that you had friends ready to help so I’m assuming my prayers for you have been answered. Continue reading “Letter from Nazareth”

The Star

Herbert O’Driscoll
January 2016

The compound where I worked before retirement is situated on a high mountain ridge in the western edge of the kingdom. In the distance on a clear day one can see the great gulf that is fed from the north by the Tigris and the Euphrates. Beyond the gulf to the west is the vast desert that stretches to the edge of Egypt, our ancestral enemy. Continue reading “The Star”

The Company of Heaven

By Herbert O’Driscoll

For four years – 1941 to 1945 – I was in a boarding school founded in 1673. Many years later, when we took our family to see the school, one of them remarked that it had not changed much since that date! However, my memory of it is not an unhappy one. There were periods of homesickness of course, especially in the early months, but, as with most things in life, they passed and one entered into the life of the school with one’s peers. Continue reading “The Company of Heaven”