Many of us are not very physical in our acts of worship. For the most part we sit and stand as we are able. Some traditions add kneeling or making the sign of the cross. When it comes to bowing before God, most often we do that figuratively rather than literally. When we do get our bodies involved we usually bend at the waist or “take a knee.” Whether genuflecting or Tebowing, we don’t usually get any closer to the ground. But there is a more extreme act of adoration. It is seen regularly when Muslims pray by touching the head to the ground in prayer. Prostration, in this form or by stretching out fully, face down on the ground is a rather extreme act of worship but was the common expectation of royalty in the ancient Near East. It was this act that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to perform that got them thrown into the furnace. It was this act that Daniel refused to perform that got him thrown into the lion’s den. It was this act that Mordecai refused to perform that led to the threat of genocide against the Jews.
It takes a lot of chutzpah to stand up to the edict of the king to worship an idol or a person. But the only one worthy of that worship is God. So when we advance in the Narrative Lectionary into the gospel of Matthew, we need to understand that prostration as an act of worship directed at Jesus. The Magi seek the child in order to worship him. The Greek word translated as worship is proskeneuo, which is also used for prostration. Perhaps the scandal the first readers of the gospel would have experienced hearing of someone worshiping a human this way was lessened by the fact that these were Gentiles who may have come from the same country where Mordecai had his troubles. But Matthew is only starting there. The second person to worship Jesus by prostrating himself is a leper begging for healing and the third is a Roman soldier. The fifth person is another Gentile, the Syro-Phonecian woman who begs Jesus to heal her daughter. It is the fourth occurrence that would really have shocked the readers. The disciples bow down before Jesus when he calms the storm saving them. It is this revelation and ultimately the post-resurrection worship of Jesus that Matthew is setting his readers up for. If no Jew would bow down before a human then Matthew showing us people prostrating themselves before Jesus is part of his argument that Jesus is more than human.
So an Advent message in the Esther story lies in seeing that there is more than one law. The king was ready to have all the Jews killed because they dared to suggest that there was a law other than his. But if we can find something worthy of our worship we have found a higher law. In a world where human law fails to bring justice we need to bow to God by working for restoration and protection of rights. We need to bow to God by creating paths to reconciliation. We need to bow to God by working to eliminate racism. We need to bow to God by making clear to the world that there is more than one law; and that law is breaking in to this world in the most unlikely places, like a manger, or perhaps the depths of our beings.
Rev. Ian Lynch is pastor of Old South UCC in Kirtland, Ohio, where Darkwood Brew is used as a tool for ministry as church beyond walls. He has a YouTube channel called Bible Bytes, short video commentaries on the scripture lesson for the week.