Reflection for Today
And all the king's servants, that were in the king's gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence. / And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath.
— Esther 3:2,5
Haman, the king's chamberlain, is painted as a vain, power-hungry man whose pride and self-importance is wounded by Mordecai's refusal to bow to him. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in a story that takes place one hundred years earlier,1 Mordecai refuses to show reverence to any but the God of Israel. In his position of power and influence Haman is able to convince the king to exterminate not just Mordecai and his family, but the entire Jewish citizenship. It turns out that Mordecai's niece, Esther, the new queen, is the only one able to undermine this plot.
It could be said that Mordecai brought this whole thing on himself by his refusal to play along. All he had to do was bow, after all. How hard is that? But I'm with Mordecai here. He did the right thing. People in power can take away all we have, our homes, money, possessions, clothing even, but they can't take our faith, our loyalty, our dignity, not while we hold steadfastly to these things, in the face of any kind of threat. Faith, which is a form of integrity, was sometimes all a Jew in Babylon had left to give them a sense of self. Surrendering that would be spiritual death. There have been many cases over the centuries of people giving up their integrity to make their lives easier, to reach some supposed greater good — 'greater good' of course most often being a euphemism for ruler compliance. It rarely goes well for anyone except the ruler.
We found ourselves in that situation during most of 2020-21, willingly surrendering our rights and freedoms for the 'greater good'. A few held out in the midst of this onslaught, held on to their integrity, their faith, challenged the widely-accepted compromise. They were generally considered crackpots. It is just possible though that, like Mordecai, they were the few among us retaining their dignity. I wouldn't underestimate the importance of this. And perhaps as we reflect back today, many will feel some sense of loss of self as a result of what was so easily surrendered, on so little evidence.
1 Daniel 3