X is for . . .


The plural of Xerox may or may not be Xerxes, but I’m more interested in the ancient ruler than a modern Fortune 500 company.

Xerxes controlled Persia (contemporary Iran) and a whole lot of other real estate about 500 years before Jesus’ birth. He has a permanent and prominent place in the rise and fall of empires throughout history. He’s also been appealing to pop culture, with Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro portraying him as an egotistical giant in Frank Miller’s 2007 swords & sandals film 300.

He’s the son of Darius (mentioned in the Bible) and grandson of Cyrus the Great (mentioned in the Bible). However Xerxes never once makes an appearance in the pages of the Old or New Testament. Do a search for any names that begin with “X” and you’ll come up empty. Actually, not really. In the Book of Esther, there’s a king named Ahasuerus and he’s really Xerxes. And if I used Biblical translations other than the NRSV, I’d see Xerxes instead of Ahasuerus in Esther’s story.

The X-man is there, and not there. Here’s also where I make a confusing leap about the X-man because while I could wonder or fret about why Ahasuerus is used instead of Xerxes, I’m always fascinated by one aspect of the book where the Persian ruler is (or is not) mentioned: Esther’s the only Biblical story that never once mentions God. In Esther, the Jews are oppressed by Persians. In Esther, a woman takes a leap of faith, saves her kin, with her actions deemed heroic. God remains “off stage.”

And yet, because Esther is part of the larger story of the Holy and human relationship, I feel God’s presence. God doesn’t have to be named to be known or felt. Maybe, at least for me, that’s the slim connection to the X-man. He’s never once mentioned in the Bible (at least in my narrow understanding!) . . . but his presence is felt. Human empires influenced the formation of our faith, from Pharaoh to Caesar. Human rulers came and went, some mentioned, some not. But God, usually mentioned—but sometimes not—never goes away.

Xerxes has become an historical footnote, an occasional pop cultural reference. God, in the grand leaps of faith and tiniest gestures of hope, remains, renews, reigns.

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