The Gospel According to Carole King: Believe in Humanity
I know it's often true, sad to say
We have been unkind to one another
Tell me how many times has the golden rule
Been applied by man to his brother
Well I believe if I really looked at what's going on
I would lose faith I never could recover
So don't tell me 'bout the things you've heard
Maybe I'm wrong but I want to believe in humanity
Maybe I'm living with my head in the sand
I just want to see people giving
I want to believe in my fellow man
Yes, I want to believe
Thanks to Steven Spielberg, much of the world now knows about Oskar Schindler, the wealthy member of the Nazi Party who became profoundly saddened by the abuse of Jews in Poland where he was living and where his considerable wealth was made. Building a factory where he would hire only Jewish people to work for him caused them to be left alone by Hitler's minions. Schindler saved 1100 Jewish lives--maybe more, and when he died several years later he was virtually penniless, having spent all he had trying to protect Jews from Hitler.
Last year in the UK someone compiled forty photographs from all over the place, portraying what she or he regarded as examples of humanity at its finest. One of those images that stood out to me as I glanced through them was actually taken in our country, in New York City. It was a cold, freezing night, and a New York City police officer happened upon a homeless person who happened to be shoeless and sockless as well. The tourist with the camera saw the policeman hurry into a nearby store, and when he came out he had in hand a pair of boots and a pair of socks. He came over to the homeless person, squatted down beside him, and put the socks and shoes on the man.
When Hurricane Sandy hit, not terribly far from where we are sitting today, thousands of people, as we saw in the news time and again, were left without electricity. There were a few residents who managed not to lose their electricity, and some of those residents ran extension cords from their homes out to where people, frantic to contact their family members to let them know they were OK, could charge their phones and digital devices. Maybe you’ve also seen news photos showing some of the signs hosts used to invite others to use their electricity.
I’ve not been able to find out exactly where one dry cleaner found a way to help people who were jobless. A sign in the window of this shop, though, informed jobless people who had an interview for a job that the clothes they would wear to their interviews would be cleaned free of charge at that facility.
Persian King Xerxes I ruled from 486-465 BCE. His Queen, Vashti, was exceedingly beautiful, and at huge banquet the King threw for upper crust men he called for Queen Vashti to make an appearance wearing only her crown. Vashti said, translating into modern American parlance, “Not no, but hell no!” Xerxes had to save face so the only recourse open to him was to have Vashti removed as a wife and, thus, as his Queen. This left a conspicuous vacancy in the palace, and his advisors encouraged him to have a nationwide beauty search. He loved the idea so from some 127 provinces, the loveliest women in the land were brought to the palace and prepped for the beauty contest at which the King would select his new Queen.
There were non-Persians living in Persia. Most were there because they had been exiled from their homelands. In the capital city, Shushan, a beautiful young Jewish woman, Hadassah, lived with her Uncle Mordechai who had been one of respected leaders of the Jewish people living in exile in the Persian Empire. As Hadassah readied herself to go to the palace for the twelve month prep process, Uncle Mordechai advised her not to tell anyone that she was a Jew.
The twelve month prep process ended, and the time came for the King to make his choice. This is how the writer of the book of Esther described the magic moment for Xerxes: “The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she carried charm and favor before him more than all the other virgins, so he placed the royal crown on her head, and made her queen in place of Vashti” (2:17).
Mordechai made it his business to hang out at the palace gates with some frequency so he could hear news about his niece who had taken the Persian name Esther. All the news about her was wonderful, but he happened to overhear some news that wasn’t good at all. He heard two men plotting to kill King Xerxes. He got an urgent message to Esther who informs her King what was going on. The would-be assassins were found and executed.
Esther couldn’t tell the King that Mordechai was her uncle, but she nonetheless told the King that a man named Mordechai had gotten news to her in time for her to make known what was brewing. King Xerxes praised Mordechai to high heaven and had his name officially recorded as a model subject to the throne.
Shortly thereafter, Xerxes appointed a new Prime Minister, a megalomaniac named Haman, whose first official act was to decree that everyone in the kingdom except the King would have to bow down to him any time he appeared in their presence. Mordechai refused, and naturally he stood out.
Haman was incensed, and he set out to avenge his injured pride. He slithered into an audience with the King and said something like this: “There is a certain people, scattered and spread out among the peoples in all the states of your kingdom; their laws are different from other people's, and they do not observe the king’s laws, so it is not worth it for the king to leave them alive” (3:8). Xerxes agreed and therefore issued an edict giving the specific day on which the Jews throughout Persia would be exterminated.
The Jews naturally were petrified. Most of them knew of no way out of the fate sealed for them by Haman and Xerxes.
Modechai again gets an emergency message to his niece asking her to plead with the King to stop the massacre. This was a message that she felt she had to deliver to the King in person, but the King was kind of moody; and he had this rule that if someone randomly called on him--that is without an appointment--they would be killed on the spot unless he raised his scepter toward them.
Esther got a message back to Mordechai telling him what was at stake in palace protocol.
Mordechai loved his niece as his own daughter, but he urged her to take the risk for the sake of all of her people living under Persian rule. One of the most important lessons in the whole of Hebrew scripture is conveyed in the message he gets back to Esther. Please listen because it’s a message that any one of us or all of us together could have to hear one of these days. Mordechai’s message to Esther:
Do not imagine that [you can] save yourself in the king’s palace from the fate of all the Jews. For if you indeed keep silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, and you and your father’s household will perish. And who knows but that for a time a time as this you are in a royal position?! (4:13-14)
Esther dressed in her most beautiful robes, and very much afraid she approached King Xerxes unannounced. There was that instant when she didn’t know if she would be alive much longer, but Xerxes held out his golden scepter, the sign that she was welcome in his court. Before he knew what it was, he offered to grant Esther’s wish whatever it might be. All she asked was that he and Prime Minister Haman join her for a private feast. He was thrilled that she didn’t want a higher line of credit on the royal credit cards, and he enthusiastically accepted the invitation.
The three dignitaries dined together. A lovely time was had by all, and Esther said that it had been so nice she wanted to do the same thing the next day. Who would’ve said no?
On the way home after feast number one, Haman happens to pass by Mordechai who as usual refuses to bow down to him. This enraged Haman, and when he told his wife at home why he was so upset she reminded him that he was the Prime Minister. He had the power to put troublemakers to death with no more authority than a nod from the King. Haman was thrilled with the suggestion, and he had his ten sons build a gallows on which he planned to hang Mordechai. He was certain Xerxes wouldn’t care much if there were one less Jew around.
Meanwhile, back at the palace, the King is very restless. He can’t sleep. He finally stops fighting it and gets out of bed. He asks his advisors to read to him some of the latest entries in the record that was being kept of his reign. Since it was still quite current, the record of Mordechai saving his life was read to the King, and his heart was warmed all over again.
The morning light came, and Haman arrived for a consult with the King. Obviously, Haman’s people had cleared the meeting before Haman showed up. When he did, he was all ready to get a quick OK from Xerxes and get on with Mordechai’s execution. Before Haman could make his request, the King said, “I need your advice. How can I best honor one of my most loyal subjects?”
Haman thinks the King is referring to him so he says that the very best way to honor this unnamed subject would be to have him dressed in royal finery and paraded through the capital city riding on the King’s own steed. Xerxes thought that was a terrific idea, and he instructed Haman to find the Jew named Mordechai and arrange for the very experience he himself had described.
Humiliated Haman barely gets back home before the call comes for him to come to Esther’s second feast. He arrived, an emotional wreck. As they dined, Esther told Xerxes someone was out to kill her this time, but not only her; this person wants to have all Jews killed. This is the point at which she tells the King that she herself was Jewish. The King was outraged, and at that point Esther told him the man with whom they had dined is the culprit. Xerxes has Haman hung on the gallows he had built for Mordechai. And guess who the next Prime Minister of Persia was. Mordechai.
It turns out that it was too late to stop the edict the King had already made under the influence of Haman, but Prime Minister Mordechai was able to get an edict approved allowing the Jews, though normally not allowed weapons, to do whatever was necessary to protect themselves from Xerxes own forces. No Jewish lives were lost.
Had Queen Esther not been willing to lose her own life in an effort to save her people, all the Jews in Persia would have been killed. Don’t think what Mordechai had said to her at the beginning of the threat was ever forgotten. It circulated through her consciousness several times every day: “Who knows but that for a such an hour as this you have found yourself in a place of influence.”
Sacrifice is the ultimate sign that one person or one group fully values another. I wonder if we've ever had in human experience a crisis or tragedy without heroes. I would think not. Something about the worst of circumstances sometimes brings out the best in us. We find ourselves acting in selfless ways we didn't even know we were capable of, perhaps.
It's still not terribly far removed from the 9/11 attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon, and the thwarted plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. The number of people who put their lives at risk trying to save the lives of others inspired us beyond words.
NYPD Officer Moira Smith made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11. She made several runs into the rubble to bring out as many wounded people as she could. Finally, there was the run in from which she never returned. For her courageous acts on 9/11, Officer Smith, the only female NYPD officer to die in the aftermath of the attacks, was posthumously awarded the department's highest tribute, the Medal of Honor.
Same day. A 31-year-old public relations whiz kid, Mark Bingham, had a first class seat on United Airlines Flight 93, traveling from Newark to San Francisco; this was the flight on which hijackers overtook the pilots in an effort to crash the plane into the US Capitol Building. Bingham is thought to have been one of the passengers who kept the plane from heading toward DC.
Senator McCain delivered the eulogy at Mark Bingham’s funeral. This is part of what he said:
It is very possible that I would have been in the Capital Building, with a great many other people, when that fateful, terrible moment occurred, and a beautiful symbol of our freedom was destroyed along with hundreds if not thousands of lives. I may very well owe my life to Mark and the others who summoned the enormous courage and love necessary to deny those depraved, hateful men their terrible triumph.
Jesus once said, “Greater love has no person than this: to lay down her or his life for friends.”
If humanity gives up on humanity where in the world will we be?