Put simply and briefly (and acknowledging my own limitations in sociological study) the idea of “the Other” is those whom we define our identities against. Growing up as a “westie”, I could define myself by those things that I had in common with other “westies” as well as by the things that excluded others from my group (like things associated with being a “silvertail”). The other is the one who is excluded and alienated as I firm up my own identity.
Both passages we are looking at today have examples of the other. As the drama of the story of Esther unfolds it becomes clear that in the Persian empire that the Jewish people are the other (Esther 2:10, 20). In 1 Corinthians 11, the divisions have also created a sense of otherness tearing apart the church to the point that Paul says “your meetings do more harm than good.” OUCH!
In different ways, both stories have characters who need to make decisions about their own identity. Esther knows the potential cost for her in standing on the side of the Other “And If I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16) The church at Corinth needs to rethink how it treats (humiliates) those who have nothing (1 Cor 11:22) – lest they eat and drink in an unworthy manner (ie. one that stands against the fellowship and oneness the cup symbolises)
In a very real way, their decision is about whether to mould an identity around the world and it’s standards, or under the true KIng and his commands. Esther could have choose the standards of the world, taken her “lucky” break and continued safely in royalty leaving the Jews to their demise. The well off Corinthians could have chosen a worldly identity that reinforced the rich vs poor paradigm rather than an inclusive kingdom one.
Jesus’ simple words “love one another” remind us of the need to break away from identities that build me up at the expense of others. But more than this, these two stories remind us of the relational mess of our world and the restorative power of God’s kingdom as it continues to break into the world.
The relational mess started in the Garden of Eden. Sin brought friction, tension and tragically even oppression and abuse into the realm of human relationships. God’s kingdom brings unity and togetherness, reversing the effects of the fall and bringing hope to all who are touched by such love. Esther and the Corinthians, as members of God’s kingdom were challenged to live by Kingdom ways rather than the ways of the world. That same choice faces us each day – especially when it comes to the “other” in our lives.
How will you approach the others in your life today? How will we approach the other within our church community? Will it be with a worldly attitude that forges my identity at their expense or with a kingdom attitude that spares no expense to forge their identity?