Sunday, 22 January 2012

Haman hanged - a reversal

Most of the ideas in the post come from a sermon by Pete Wilkinson, St Ebbes, Oxford entitled "Two Banquets"

Haman in One Night with the King
Those familiar with the story of the Jewish woman Esther who finds herself Queen of the Persian Empire, will know that Haman is the villain of the story. He is proud and evil and meets his just deserts in one of the most ironically satisfying reversal tales in the Bible. We cheer to see Haman leading Mordecai the Jew, his sworn enemy, on the king's horse like a common slave and proclaiming how much the king honours his rival. We cheer too when we see him hanged on the very gallows he had had built to hang this same enemy. This is a story of evil defeated and good being victorious. It's the way we expect things should be.

In this morning's 9.45 service at St Ebbe's, the speaker, Pete Wilkinson put something of a different spin on this story - one I've never thought of before. Yes Haman is the bad guy. But to what extent is Haman a picture of us? He exemplifies the human condition apart from God. Desperately wicked and fully absorbed in his own self-promotion and exultation, are we really that different from him? Pride is a quintessential expression of human sin. It was pride that caused Adam and Eve to desire to eat the fruit from the tree of  the Knowledge of Good and Evil; the pride that the fruit would make them like God so that they would no longer need to submit to him. And pride leads us to many of our our other sins - the belief that we are the most important person in the world and therefore have the right to do whatever we want, regardless of it's consequences.

When we look at ourselves in the light of Haman and his end, we may wonder: "Is there then any hope for us?" Haman's sins did find him out, what then of us?

The answer, however is that there is hope. Though we recognise the justice in Haman's story, it is not the most powerful reversal story in the Bible. There is another, more significant, in it's apparent injustice.

When Xerxes has Haman hanged he is careful to protect his own reputation. Esther's accusation against him is that he is planning the massacre of her people, but since Xerxes played a role in authorising that massacre, he accuses Haman instead of assaulting his wife (a charge it seems is only partially true). In this way the King punishes Haman justly, but protects his own reputation.

The other story, the one that brings hope for us Hamans, also involves a hanging of sorts. A hanging on a Roman cross. In this story, the king does not seek to protect his own reputation, but, being this time completely innocent, he takes the punishment that we the Hamans deserved. This reversal is one in which the just man is hanged so that the guilty may go free.

Looking at it from this point of view, it seems all wrong. It is, but the story doesn't end there. Because it wasn't just some good king that took the death penalty on the evil Haman's part; it was God himself in human flesh, in the person of Jesus. He wasn't only a good king, but was completely holy. In his holiness, the grave could not hold him and he rose again after three days, not only securing freedom for a world full of Hamans, but defeating the evil and need for death that all those Hamans possessed. When we acknowledge that we are among those Hamans, we come to understand the undeserved grace that is showered on us through this reversal. To all who accept this substitution, we receive not only life, but the power stop being Hamans. 

When we look on how the one deserving of all honour did not seek his own glory but humiliated himself, we begin to realise just how great this God is. With this new view, and with his spirit in us, we can't help but see the folly of our pride and begin to humble ourselves before him. Unlike Haman, we have a happier ending. Our life does not end on the gallows as we deserve, but we have the opportunity to repent and start a new life where honour goes to the one who deserves it! Not how's that for a reversal?

1 comment:

Lilly said...

Wow. That is quite thought provoking! Amazing post here.