The Thorn in the Paw
It is hard to read the book of Esther and not draw immediate parallels to our nation’s current leadership: There’s the clownish King Ahasuerus you may know him as Xerxes I; there’s also his egotistical lieutenant who can bear anything except to not be bowed down to; and there’s even a rag-tag resistance, exiles who were condemned to die unless something happened. There are no miracles in the book of Esther. In fact, God isn’t even mentioned. God’s actions are hidden in natural actions.
This story was not written for us to read the week following the recent spectacle in the US Senate, it was written for exiles, people who had recently been condemned to permanent silence. The story is one of hope that the mighty really will fall, and that God really will intervene on behalf of her people. It is such a powerful story that the Jews still remember it in the annual Feast of Purim.
This week, as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before one of the most powerful committees in our government, I couldn’t help think of the clever Queen Esther plotting her next move, weighing every word carefully, knowing that her life was of little value to the king. As Judge Kavanaugh kvetched about his crumbling privilege it was hard not to see the face of Haman as he realised that the gig was up and his ego had gotten the better of him. Yes, today’s reading is ripped right from the headlines.
We want the weak to overcome, and we want to see the mighty fall. That’s human nature. But, Purim is not about winning. It’s not a celebration of the overthrow of Haman. At Purim we give charity, take food to our friends, some people even wear costumes, we eat hamantaschen, and we drink. But, how much should you drink at Purim? Well, legend has it that you should drink until you can’t tell your friends from your enemies. In other words, Purim, at the end of the day, is about reconciliation.
Here’s the thing: Reconciliation can’t happen when one party is still in pain. That’s why when South Africans set out to heal the divisions in their country they didn’t set up a Reconciliation Commission, they set up a Truth and Reconciliation commission. The truth has to be told, it has to be heard, and above all the hurting has to stop. As a society, we are not there yet. I believe the best about us, and I believe in the American system. But, we are not anywhere near ready for truth or reconciliation. Not yet.
That leaves many of us in a no-woman’s land where there is not peace, safety, or much hope. We are as isolated as any exile and with our untold, unheard, unacknowledged pain.
The good news is that we can heal without the US Senate.
The good news is that Jesus is not just, he is just good.
The good news, the gospel, is that there is hope for all of us who are living with a festering splinter of a wound in our hearts.
And that brings us to Saint Jerome. The scholar, translator of the Vulgate, exegete, and doctor of the church… that Saint Jerome… was also a healer. This morning I want to talk about his healing methods and suggest that we might take a page from his play-book to find healing for ourselves.
The story is that one evening Jerome and his disciples were enjoying a cool breeze at their monastery in Jerusalem when a giant lion came upon them. Rightly terrified, the monks all took shelter or jumped out a window to safety. Jerome had noticed that the lion was limping, though, and he sat quietly to see if he could help the lion. When he got close, the lion placed his paw in Saint Jerome’s lap and Jerome examined it, finding a thorn in the forward pad. Gently, Jerome removed the thorn, cleaned the lions foot, put ointment on it and bandaged it. Jerome took care of the lion until the paw was healed. In gratitude, the lion became Jerome’s companion and lived and worked in the monastery for the rest of his life.
The story is not a historical account, of course. It’s hagiographic. That means that it is a story designed to tell us something about the saint using symbols and metaphors. So, what are we to make of this story of the saint and the lion? Moreover, what does it have to do with Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford? What does it have to do with us?
The fact of the matter is that we are all wounded. There is some kind of thorn in every heart. It may be a life-altering attack like Dr. Ford experienced, or maybe a seething rage like Judge Kavanaugh has, it’s whatever you’ve got in your own heart, and me in mine. There’s a thorn. The question we might ask is whether or not we are willing to get close enough to the healer to have it pulled out. See, with a lion and a human there is danger. Lions and humans kill one another. But our healer is willing to have us put our wounded paw in his lap and be healed, if only we will get close enough.
Healing, becoming really whole, is hard. If you’ve done it, or if you’re doing it, you know. It feels like approaching a lion. But, keep cool like Jerome did. Be methodical. Be tender. Allow time. Be like the lion and get help when you need it. Most of all, make friends with the pain and before you know it, it will be a memory and you will be forever changed.
In these crazy days of circus politics and personal pain, take care of yourself and take care of one another. Tend to whatever thorns are wounding your heart, remembering that everyone has a thorn in their heart. Most of all, remember that you are in God’s good hands.
O Lord, show your mercy to me and gladden my heart. I am like the man on the way to Jericho who was overtaken by robbers, wounded and left for dead. O Good Samaritan, come to my aid. I am like the sheep that went astray. O Good Shepherd, seek me out and bring me home in accord with Your will. Let me dwell in your house all the days of my life and praise You for ever and ever with those who are there. Amen. Prayer of St. Jerome
Some Notes of Possible Interest
This year Purim began on Wednesday evening, February 28. But, you can catch it next year on March 20. Currently, the Jews are observing another great festival: Sukkus! But, that’s not in this essay. It could be, though, because it is the festival when we remember that God sheltered us in huts in the wilderness. It is a time of remembering God’s care, giving thanks for harvests, shaking the lulav, eating outside, and sleeping in our sukkahs.
To say that Purim is about reconciliation is a gross oversimplification, but this essay is not really about Purim. So, excuse my simplification. Spiritually, at Purim, we think about recollecting our desire to be close to God. The People are thought to represent desires. At Purim we recollect our desires and submit them to the desire to know God. Socially, we can make other inferences. It’s more complicated than can be told here.
The story of Esther is here in a video.
There’s a great video about Purim here.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jewish holiday without The Maccabeats
I have written about Esther before. You can read it here.
You can read more about South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission here.
You can read more about Saint Jerome here.
Of course, there are other stories about someone removing a thorn from a lion’s paw. Most notably, there’s Androcles. But there is also a story about a knight, and one about a shepherd.
Praying for your enemies is not always the first idea that comes to mind but it is one path to healing. You may not be there yet, and that’s OK. If you are, Ashley Kavanaugh, Brett Kavanaugh’s wife, has asked people to pray Psalm 40 for husband. If you can’t pray it with any conviction, then pray it without conviction and just see what happens. If you can’t pray it at all, don’t worry. Maybe that’s not your path. Everybody’s path to healing is different.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault and the current news cycle is getting to you there are some coping strategies here