Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Reflections for the 1st Week of Lent, Part 2

Thursday – Esther's Prayer

Queen Esther was in the worst position anyone could ever be in. The king, on the advice of a jealous courtier, had decreed that all the Jews were to be annihilated in a single day. He didn't realize that his own queen was one of those sentenced to death. 

Esther's adopted father, Mordecai, asked her to go before the king and plead for the lives of her people. There was, however, a bit of a problem. Anyone who entered the king's presence without being summoned was liable to instant death unless the king extended his scepter to that person. Esther had not been invited into the throne room, but she had no choice. To save her people and herself, she had to approach the king.

She understood, though, that she couldn't do it on her own. She needed divine power to back her up. So she prayed. She placed herself completely in God's hands. Remembering her Lord's great deeds in the past, she asked Him to help her now. She begged Him to be with her and put just the right words in her mouth to convince the king that the Jews were innocent. “Save us from the hand of our enemies,” she pleaded, “turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.” 

God answered Esther's prayer. The king graciously extended his scepter to the queen when she entered into his presence. He accepted her invitation to a banquet, and he encouraged her to present her petition. When he realized that his queen and her people were in grave danger, he became furious. He quickly executed the courtier in question and issued a second decree that the Jews were not to be disturbed. By trusting in God and relying on His help, Queen Esther saved her people. 

Friday – It's Not Fair!

“The Lord's way is not fair!” So said the Israelites. They were upset because God gave second chances to sinners who changed their ways but punished “good people” who sinned. This just didn't jive with their ideas of right and wrong. They were slow to forgive those with a reputation and equally slow to censure the “better sort” who were breaking the moral law.

God replied with a question: “Is it My way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” Even someone with a long string of virtuous behavior can fall into sin and suffer its consequences. That person risks eternal death if he does not repent. On the other hand, a person with a long string of sins is always welcome to turn away from wickedness and seek God's forgiveness. That person will find what he seeks and live. 

So which way is truly fair? God's or man's?

Saturday – Love Your Enemies

In today's Gospel, we hear what are probably some of the most challenging words Jesus ever said: “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you...” 

Love your enemies. How can we do that when we feel like we can't even stand the sight of them? This kind of love, however, isn't about emotion. It's not about approving of people's behavior or choices. It doesn't even really require that we like the other person.

Instead, this love demands that we will the absolute best for other people, even our enemies, and do everything in our power to help them achieve that absolute best. This love challenges us to step out of ourselves, to let go of our ideas, and to see our enemies as beloved children (or potential children) of God. This love expects us to give freely of ourselves to help others, even those we would rather not deal with at all. 

This self-giving love must always include prayer. We must lift our enemies up to God and ask Him to bless them. 

Is this difficult? Does it sometimes seem impossible? Of course. That's when we need to ask God for His grace to assist us. He never requires anything of us that He won't help us do. Even if we can't rely on our own strength in this area, we can certainly rely on His. With God's help, we can indeed love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

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