You can listen to the sermon this blog post derives from, HERE.
My attention was captured by a phrase in the last verse of the book of Esther. How does the book end? With Esther living happily ever after as the hero in the story?
No. It concludes with the summary that “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.”
Mordecai may have worked for the good of his people, the Jews, but he wasn’t the Jewish Ambassador to Persia. Mordecai was the second in rank over the entire Persian population. He may have advocated for the Jews, but he would have only kept his position by being a responsible ruler for all people.
In accepting his promotion to second in rank to King Xerxes, Mordecai was choosing to work for an ungodly king. Persia may have treated the Jews and Jerusalem better than the Babylonians (who destroyed the city), but it didn’t make them godly. Paganism would still infiltrate all areas of palace life.
Mordecai was choosing to work with an empire that expanded rapidly and destroyed nations in their path in a manner similar to the treatment Judah received.
Mordecai chose to work for and with the enemy.
Yes, his niece, Esther, was married to Xerxes, but she didn’t have a choice in the matter. That’s pretty much the point of the whole book!
Mordecai provides an example of living out the counsel the prophet Jeremiah had given years earlier,
Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” ~ Jeremiah 29:5-7
That last verse is a tough one. Seek the peace and prosperity of the city you land in. Pray for the city, the pagans, the people who burnt your city, the soldiers who carried you in chains to Babylon. Pray for your enemies. Your prosperity is tied to theirs. Jeremiah’s thought is a precursor to the saying that “a rising tide lifts all boats”.
Most of my readers haven’t been exiled to your current city, but this verse should challenge us. It sounds nice and fuzzy to seek the peace and prosperity of the place I live. Perhaps I’ll get to experience some of that prosperity. Then I realize that I’m to pray for the peace and prosperity of the WHOLE city.
I naturally want to limit that prayer. I want to pray that the government makes wise decisions for the good of the citizens. I want to pray that my church will expand. I want to pray that the good people will be recognized and rewarded. I want to pray that crime will decrease. I want to pray for people I like: people like me.
But when Jeremiah says to pray for the city, he’s referring to the Jew’s enemies. He wants the Jews to pray for the people who’ve captured and brought them to this place. He wants the Jews to pray that the pagans may experience peace and prosperity. He wants the Jews to pray that the cruel king may live in peace and prosper.
What does that look like for us? Maybe, we also need to pray…
- that followers of other religions in our city will experience peace and safety.
- that the homeless and destitute in our city will find security and prosperity.
- that supporters on the other side of the political divide will live in peace and that they will prosper.
- that those intent of crime and violence will find peace and a constructive object for their energies.
- that those in leadership will prioritise the peace and prosperity of their citizens while pursuing it in their personal lives also.
- that those in captivity may return to their families and experience peace and well-being.
As Christians, we believe that ultimate peace and fulfillment in life comes from Jesus. We should certainly pray for the expansion of his kingdom in our city. We also need to recognise that Christians have a responsibility to contribute to our communities in a way that “sinners” will benefit from our presence. God doesn’t give us the discretion of choosing who receives our kindness. This illustrates why Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” is still so radical and fundamental to our faith. God’s children are to seek the good of the whole city.