Let me ask you something - how many biblical characters can you name?
Our culture is familiar with a few. Even those outside of the church can likely name characters like Adam and Eve, Noah, Jesus. Maybe even David (especially in tandem with Goliath), Joseph (and his amazing techni-color dreamcoat). If you've been around the church for a bit, you can probably name a few more: Paul, Peter, Solomon, Abraham. Maybe even a couple of disciples. Maybe even more.
But our Bible is full of names. Full of them. Some of them are the main characters in their scenes (well, except for God, of course, who is always the main character in every scene) or they are names that we hear over and over again until we know them well. Some of them are secondary characters; they show up a few times in what looks like someone else's story, and we sort of have a sense that they are there, but we don't pay a whole lot of attention to them. Some of them are just names, names that show up once, maybe twice, in a list of names or something like that, and we read right by them.
What's interesting in this last group is that we read right past the genealogies like they are super-boring and totally unimportant, but we also reward children and young Christians for memorizing the names of all twelve disciples, at least a handful of whom are simply listed by name in the list of the disciples and we never know another single thing about them. They seem important because they are at least, we think, secondary characters in the story of Jesus, but if you actually go looking through the Gospels, they are not really anything more than mere names. Not in our version of the story.
The point is, our Bible is full of names. It is full of characters. Some of them, we pay a lot of attention to; some of them, we barely notice. We get the sense that God is using some of them to teach us something important about life or faith or grace or hope, and then we figure that He's using the other ones to teach us something important about the real characters who are the ones teaching us about life and faith and grace and hope.
What if...that's not quite true?
What if those "secondary" characters in the Bible are there to teach us just as much about life and faith and grace and hope as the characters whose names we more easily remember?
I was thinking about this in recent weeks as I read through the book of Esther. This short little book is the perfect example of what I'm talking about. We read Esther, and we think that the main character in the book of Esther is...Esther. Duh. The book is named after her. But if you actually read the book of Esther and count, she's not a major player in the story. She has, like, one big scene and that's it.
The book itself is actually a story about Mordecai and Haman. Mordecai, you might know because when you read this story, you know that he was the man of God (the Jew) and that seems important, so you might have tucked that one into your noggin at some point. Haman, you're probably less familiar with because he's the foreigner, the bad guy, the schemer who ends up losing his life hanged on the very gallows he was going to hang Mordecai on. If you know the name, you know him probably as a villain. No more and no less.
But what if even Haman has something to teach us about what it means to live the faithful life? Not in the example that he didn't set in his foreign, scheming, evil life...but in an example that he did set? Even as "wicked" as he was?
We'll talk about that example this week, and other things that I'm thinking about when it comes to so-called "minor" characters in the Bible. It should be interesting. At least, I think it is.