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Monday, April 16, 2012

That's an odd custom!

In a world as diverse as ours, we see all kinds of "customs" and "ways" which are somewhat different from those we may have been raised to observe.  The passage of time even affects the customs and ways of various people.  Just look at the tendency to all eat dinner as a family in the 50's being replaced with the "catch as catch can" type of family gatherings we see today.  Yet, when a people holds to a custom, there are others who can always find fault with it.


Haman then spoke with King Xerxes: "There is an odd set of people scattered through the provinces of your kingdom who don't fit in. Their customs and ways are different from those of everybody else."  (Esther 3:8 The Message)


Haman was not so concerned about Mordecai (the cousin of Esther) being a Jew as much as he was concerned about Mordecai refusing to bow down to him in some sign of awareness of his "masterful" position he had obtained in the government.  Haman had bee promoted to the "top dog" position - highest official of the land next to the king himself.  In keeping with this "regal" position, he desired the pomp and circumstance which went with it!  Bowing as he passed was just one of those "customs" he desired.


Mordecai was a Jew faithful to his upbringing.  He knew the teaching of the Law of Moses - you shall have no other gods before me.  In other words, he would not bow before any other - only God himself.  It was not a thing of disrespecting Haman, but a matter of honoring God.  As a result, Haman labeled him, and his fellow Jews, as "not fitting in". 


I guess King Xerxes had never really observed the customs of the Jews as much of an affront to himself, but he liked Haman, so he went along with the plans of the "little weasel".  It is truly a sad day when the leadership of the land cannot or will not take time to investigate the circumstance before allowing the passage of a rule which impacts so many!  The vote of the "popular" may not always be to the advantage of the rest of society!


The message which spoke to me today in the study of this passage really centered on being a people who just "don't fit in".  You see, Mordecai was not content to "blend".  He had an "identity" in his heritage which he held as his current manner of behavior.  In fact, Mordecai was never disloyal to the king.  He had even uncovered a plot to harm the king - being sure to get word of the plot to the king through Esther.  In short order, the king dealt with the rebels who plotted against him, recording the actions of Mordecai's "good deed" in the annals of the king.


So, on the day when Haman came to complain about Mordecai, why didn't the king remember him?  I imagine the king had many loyal "citizens" of the land.  Haman never presented Mordecai as the "ring-leader" or as the instigator of this attack on the Jews.  In fact, I think he cleverly worked it out to purposefully NOT tell the king about Mordecai being a Jew.  It was his intolerance of the Jewish customs and ways which motivated him.  


We are often faced with customs and ways which we may not fully understand or appreciate.  I am not saying we need to be tolerant of those which hurt others or lead others into bondage of soul, but we do need to be aware of the heart behind the actions.  I personally don't wear dresses to church - but I have attended churches where this was the custom (and I honored their custom).  


Two lessons for us today.  First, look at the heart behind the custom.  When we focus only on what we see and not what is being "lived out", we often miss the purpose of the custom.  Second, leaders do their best when they pause long enough to consider each action in light of those they represent.  When decisions are made in haste, without adequate investigation and preparation, we often miss the unintended harm which comes in our moment of inattentive action.