The book of Esther deals with many issues that apply in the lives of young people. Young people today are constantly facing times when they need to stand for something. Like Esther, they deal with being a covenant person in a very Persian world. Sometimes they are facing situations like Mordecai, being pushed around by the Haman’s at their school.
The issue we addressed in class has to do with a seeming contradiction in the book. In Esther chapter 2 we read of Mordecai’s counsel to Esther as she goes to the princess tryouts in the palace of the king. It reads, “Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it.” (Esther 2:10)
This verse appears at first reading to flow against the message of in the whole book of Esther. Essentially this is a story of one woman standing up for her people at great risk to her personal safety. By speaking to the king without being summoned, Esther risked her life (Esther 4:11). Her bravery is illustrated when she states, “Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and afast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.”(italics added Esther 4:16)
The question asked by students is, “when do we speak up?” How do we know when we should stand up and say something and when we should lie low? When Esther goes to place herself in the position to be chosen as the bride of the king of Persia, she keeps her lineage to herself. After her people are put in mortal danger by Haman’s actions she speaks up and saves her people. This is something every teenager can relate with. I asked how many of my students have found themselves in trouble by something they said. We had a great discussion in class as students shared their experiences. So many students found themselves in sticky situations where even though they were right in what they were saying, they were not believed by those in authority over them.
Credibility gets you heard
As we discussed the question of when we should speak up, one student shared with the class of her learning about Claudette Colvin. Claudette lived in Alabama in 1955 and was an African-American teenager who was a pioneer in the civil rights movement in America. She refused to sit in the back of the bus, as was the custom during this tumultuous time in American history. African-American citizens had been arrested, and even killed, for disobeying bus drivers.
Claudette Colvin’s bravery and sacrifice are not as known today as that of Rosa Parks. Leaders of the civil rights movement at that time did not rally around Claudette due to the fact that she was only 15, among other reasons. Claudette’s bravery should be applauded, even though she is largely unknown. Would things have turned out differently if she was older when she was arrested and had a more established reputation – say, more like Rosa Parks?
Mrs. Rosa Parks, on the other hand, was regarded as “one of the finest citizens of Montgomery…” Dr. Martin Luther King said. Nine months after Claudette was arrested for noncompliance, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger and was arrested in Montgomery. After the arrest of Rosa Parks, citizens sympathetic to her cause organized and promoted a boycott of the city bus line that lasted 381 days. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was appointed the spokesperson for the Bus Boycott and taught nonviolence to all participants. Contingent with the protest in Montgomery, others took shape throughout the south and the country. They took form as sit-ins, eat-ins, swim-ins, and similar causes. Thousands of courageous people joined the “protest” to demand equal rights for all people. (Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute for self-development: biography)
Because Rosa Parks had credibility, she was able to transform society. By working with Dr. Martin Luther King, and by ensuring that the message was tempered with nonviolent civil disobedience, their message gained momentum. How the message is presented is just as important as the message if not more so.
An example of this idea is illustrated in the scriptures. When Ammon goes among the people of Lamoni with the intention to “bring, if it were possible, their brethren, the Lamanites, to the knowledge of the truth…” (Alma 17:9) he uses an interesting approach. He does not come out and proceed to explain to the Lamanites how their religious beliefs are in error. Instead, he seeks to serve them, to do all he can to set a good example while he lives among them. In other words, he gains credibility in the eyes of the people.
When Ammon saw that robbers were coming to scatter the sheep of the king, we read, “when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe my words.” (Alma 17:29)
By serving the king, showing forth the power of the Lord as he defended the king’s flocks, Ammon gained the ability to persuade the king to listen to his message. He had respect. This great show of power in defense of the king’s property caused King Lamoni to ask, “Who art thou?” (Alma 17:18) From this point forward, Ammon could teach the king the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Alma 17:36-40) to the point where Lamoni “believed all this words” (Alma 18:40).
Contrast Ammon’s experiences with those of his brother Aaron in Alma 21. We read that Aaron “first began to preach to the Amalekites” (Alma 17:4) as an Amalekite began to “contend with him,” (Alma 21:5) Aaron began to open the scriptures to this angry group of Amalekites (Alma 21:9). Aaron and his brethren leave once they are rejected and find that they are continually contending “with many about the word” (Alma 21:11). This brings Aaron and his brethren to the point where they are mocked by an angry crowd and eventually cast into prison (Alma 21:14). Although things change for Aaron later in the chapter towards a more positive outcome, it seems clear that to preach the word it certainly helps if you have a level of trust with those you are called to teach. Ammon’s example of first winning the hearts of the people is a perfect illustration of the importance of gaining credibility so that our message is received.
An example from the life of Christ
The Savior was constantly challenged by those who wanted to take apart his message. He is a perfect example to us of the importance of gaining the trust of those we teach. If we as a church will collectively strive to do all we can to engender trust with those around us, the whole world will be a better place. This is one of the main messages in the book of Esther: to make a difference you must be credible. The following example is an illustration of this from the life of Jesus Christ:
And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was ain the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he apreached the word unto them. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was aborne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be aforgiven thee. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this man thus speak ablasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the aSon of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, aArise, and take up thy bbed, and go thy way into thine house. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion. (italics added Mark 2:1-12)
I love this story, it is amazing on so many levels. For the purposes of our discussion it serves the purpose of proving that actions oftentimes speak louder than words. Jesus did have the power to forgive sins. Of this there is no doubt. But to the doubters who murmured behind his back, with one action Jesus shut them up. He showed by his actions that his message was true. His enemies could only shake their heads and keep quiet.