The Nazis were not the first to try to annihilate the Jews.
Twenty-four centuries earlier, in the fifth century BCE in Persia, an earlier attempt at such genocide was made, and thwarted. This is recounted in the book of Esther. It is a dramatic tale of palace intrigue: a powerful King (Ahasuerus), a beautiful queen (Ether), and a diabolical prime minister (Haman).
Haman despises the Jews, because they will not bow down to him as ruler. So he plots a genocide. In the end, it is up to Queen Esther (a Jew) to appeal to the King to stop Haman’s wicked plan. At great risk to herself, she cleverly arranges to obtain the King’s favor, and asks him to spare her life, and the lives of her people. Haman is thwarted, and hoisted by his own petard…that is, hanged on his own gallows. The Jewish festival of Purim continues annually today to celebrate this rescue from evil Haman.
This colorful tale from long ago points to the age-old human tendency to divide humans into groups by ethnicity or creed, and then demonize certain groups. The Jews have suffered more than their share of this kind of persecution. Esther’s story echoes into our present day, in that Persia is modern-day Iran. Maybe it’s no wonder the state of Israel does not trust the Iranians.
Jesus seemed to fall victim to this same tendency to denigrate other groups, as when he called the gentile Syrophoenician woman a “dog” – quite an insult. But Jesus moved beyond that way of thinking, and became the greatest champion of equality among all people – the preciousness of each human being in the eyes of God.
Polls this week say that anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise in America. We have a long way to go before we can really say we love our neighbors. JBM