A Woman with Full Authority
Many people in Minnesota get really excited about fall. We welcome cooler weather, colorful trees, and a chance to share treasures from our garden. Fall is also a vivid reminder that we are placed on Earth to help one another. Almost every harvest, I hear a friend or coworker describe how family, friends, or neighbors worked together to help get the apples picked, or the wheat and beets harvested. The farms on which many grew up are within a day's drive, and serve as ready reminders that we need each other. To realize this is to live close to the truth that our devotion and even our faith in God is often best expressed as service and sacrifice on behalf of others.
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If we define leadership as service, which I believe scripture does, then everyone is called to leadership because everyone is called to serve regardless of gender, ethnicity, or education. This message, it seems to me, is at the heart of the book of Esther -- a book that provides a profound example of a woman leader exalted by scripture.
The book of Esther tells the story of a Jewish woman who rises from obscurity into the royal court as the new queen of King Xerxes. This narrative includes models of leadership that could not be more different from each other.
First, there is King Xerxes -- a leader who becomes a puppet-king by continually abandoning his decisions and responsibilities to others, and trusting individuals who are most unworthy. He allows Haman, his "chief of staff," to plan the genocide of the Jews. Haman, another model of leadership, is furious with the Jew Mordecai because he refuses to honor Haman's rise to power. Haman's wounded narcissism leads to revenge, which places innocent men, women, and children -- including Queen Esther -- on the brink of annihilation.
Xerxes and Haman are leaders who consider the needs of self before the needs of others, and as these two men fall short, an unlikely leader emerges to step in the gap -- a woman, and a minority woman at that.
Esther's leadership at every turn stands in stark contrast to the failures of leadership not only of Xerxes her husband, but also to those of Haman. Whereas Xerxes and Haman head off to drink, after determining to annihilate innocent people, Esther takes up her call to leadership by fasting and standing with those who are oppressed. Haman's self-absorption leads him to believe he can control his destiny and that of his enemies, while Esther is less sure. She is humble and contrite. For her, the future is not certain. Even so, she is ready to serve, even if her life is required. Esther ultimately puts her life on the line to prevent the genocide of her people, the Jews.
This is where our interconnected lives, some shaped by the farming community, bring us close to the story of Queen Esther, whose leadership is guided by her character and self-sacrifice for those in need of deliverance. In many ways Esther foreshadows our complete deliverance through the cross: Jesus Christ delivered us from sin and death by sacrificing his very life.
Scripture acknowledges the moral authority of Esther, who, along with Mordecai, was used by God to rescue the Jews from genocide:
"Queen Esther daughter of Abihail, along with the Jew Mordecai, gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim" (Esther 9:29, NRSV).
Even today, Jews around the world still remember the event by celebrating Purim. They fast as Esther fasted, they read the book of Esther aloud, they give gifts to one another, and they make donations to charitable organizations. Perhaps we may wish to remember the leadership of Esther by making a generous donation to organizations that help the most vulnerable in our communities, or around the world.
May we learn from the attributes of Esther -- as much as we learn from the mistakes of Haman and Xerxes -- that leadership is about character and sacrificial service.
Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality.