Week of Proper 19, Year Two[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 (morning) // 73 (evening)
Esther 1:1-4, 10-19
Today we begin reading the story of Esther, a heroine who uses her position of power to save her people. But the story of Esther begins with another heroine, Queen Vashti, who ends up being deposed before Esther takes her place.
Our passage today introduces King Ahasuerus, who is giving a week-long banquet and displaying his wealth to his friends. Guests were drinking wine by the flagon. Although our lectionary leaves out this verse, Queen Vashti herself was hosting a parallel banquet for the women of the palace.
At one point, while he is drunk, the king decides to display not only his luxury items but also his wife. He sends his servants “to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing the royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty.” Queen Vashti’s response? The Scripture tells us that she refuses to be displayed. Her refusal enrages the king, and he burns with anger. But oh, how the women at her own banquet must have gasped and cheered.
The king’s advisors fear that the story of Queen Vashti’s refusal will get out and justify other women’s refusal to comply with their husbands’ commands. One consultant warns the king, “this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands . . . This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will rebel against the king’s officials, and there will be no end of contempt and wrath!” On this advice, the king agrees to depose and replace Vashti.
That didn’t put an end to Queen Vashti’s story, though. Word of her refusal is out, and it’s right there in our Scriptures. We know of her refusal to be a crowned object on display, and of her power to refuse a drunk and entitled man. Her defiance might have led a king to burn with anger, but her act might also ignite other hearts and souls as we discover the beauty of our own dignity and power. What disruptive behavior might Queen Vashti’s story justify today?
Lora Walsh blogs about the Daily Office readings at A Daily Scandal. She serves as Priest Associate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with adult formation and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.