I had the pleasure tonight of studying the book of Esther in an unusual (for me) context. First of all, we are nowhere near the holiday of Purim, the time of year at which Jews usually read Esther. Secondly, I was teaching at the local Catholic church at the invitation of the church's Wednesday night Bible study group. This was the second of two sessions we did together on Esther, and more than thirty people came to participate as we read the book from the perspectives of two different faiths.
The thing that was different about tonight's study was not the teacher. It was the class. I was humbled by the way the participants so warmly and openly embraced a stranger, someone from outside of their faith, who came to teach a text that they consider to be part of their own sacred canon.
In fact, they did more than that. They gleefully used the groggers I brought to class. They had as much fun twirling them as any group of Hebrew school children I have ever seen. They pored over the Hebrew scroll of Esther I brought and treated it as an object of great sanctity.
Yes, I can imagine a synagogue welcoming a Christian teacher with as much enthusiasm as I received tonight. Yet, there is something special in the experience of being the one who is so welcomed. I am grateful for the kindness of my new friends at St. Joseph Catholic Church of Stuart.
The book of Esther, after all, does teach us that appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes, we discover that there is a deeper truth that underlies the masks we wear through life. Tonight, I learned again that where people expect to see only differences, there can be great commonality. Conventional expectations were inverted tonight in a way that reminds me of the way the terror of destruction in the book of Esther was transformed for the Jews of Shushan into "light, gladness and honor" (Esther 8:16).
It is an honor, indeed, to witness the shining of that light.
Other Posts on This Topic:
Tetzaveh: Games of Chance
Purim: Who Knows?
Nine Students, a Baby and a Wedding