Esther vs. Lazarus of Bethany

Who's tan, rested, and ready for another full week of saintly action? That was rhetorical. Of course you're tan. Today we have an intriguing Biblical matchup between Esther and Lazarus. Courageous queen vs. friend of Jesus. Who will advance? That's up to you.

After a depressing weekend without any voting, you may have forgotten what transpired on Friday. Edith Cavell, yet another one of the 2018 Cinderellas, took down theological heavyweight John Wesley 68% to 32%. She'll face Anna Alexander in what should be a lively Saintly Sixteen matchup.

It's hard to believe we're exactly halfway through the first round. But it's true. Eight matchups down, eight matchups to go before it's on to the the next round. Hang on to your halos!


EstherEsther, a saint from the Hebrew Bible, lived between 520-450 BCE, in the Persian Empire. She was an orphan raised by her devout cousin Mordecai. King Ahasuerus was king of Persia, but he was not known for being a nice guy. When we first meet him, he summons his wife Vashti to appear before a room of visiting dignitaries. When she refuses to appear, he orders her to be killed. Yikes.

To replace Vashti, the king holds an ancient beauty pageant: Women from all over the empire are summoned so that he may choose his favorite. Esther is declared the most beautiful in the kingdom and becomes queen—but she has not told anyone at the court, including the king, that she is Jewish.

Meanwhile, Haman, the king’s chief advisor, is struggling with some major ego issues. Because he believes Mordecai slighted him on the street, Haman convinces the king to order the murder of all Jews in the kingdom.

Mordecai informs Esther, urging her to do something. So Esther concocts a plan. In Persia, a law forbade entering the king’s presence unless he sent for you, under penalty of death. Esther asks the Persian Jews to pray and fast with her. Then, she gets dressed up and goes before the king—unrequested—and risks her own life.

Thankfully, the king has pity on her and grants her an audience. She takes the opportunity to invite the king and Haman to dine with her that evening. That dinner party goes so well that she suggests a second dinner party the next evening. The second night, after dinner is winding down, and everyone is in a good mood, Esther seizes the opportunity to come out as Jewish and announces that if Haman is to kill all the Jews in the land, then that would include her. MIC. DROP.

The king immediately decrees that Haman should be executed. He stipulates that the Jews will now be allowed to fight in their own defense on the day of the proposed mass execution. And so Esther saves the Jews of Persia.

Esther’s story has come to be seen as emblematic of how a minority can wield power within a majority culture. She negotiates power imbalances and exercises her privilege on behalf of her people and in the service of God. Through her story, she is wholly herself and still protects her people.

Collect for Esther
O God of the dispossessed, kindle in us the confidence and certainty of Esther, that we may hold fast to who we are, and seek to do your will, even in the most difficult of circumstances, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

-Megan Castellan

Lazarus of Bethany

LazarusLazarus of Bethany (also Lazarus of the Four Days, referring to the time he was dead for four days) is intimately connected with the life of Jesus.

According to the New Testament witness, Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were some of Jesus’ closest friends. The eleventh chapter of John’s Gospel recounts Jesus’ deep grief over the death of Lazarus, and the subsequent miracle of his resurrection.

Like many biblical figures, Lazarus only makes a brief appearance in the text itself, but numerous extra-biblical traditions have been handed down and provide deeper detail. According to John 12, Lazarus’s resurrection garnered a great deal of attention, both from those who were inspired by the story and from those who were threatened by it. Later tradition suggests that Lazarus fled Judea for someplace safer, perhaps in response to threats upon his life.

Two theories developed about Lazarus’s flight from Judea; a more recent tradition tells of his travels to Marseille, France, while an older tradition tells of him settling in Cyprus. In both traditions, Lazarus lived for another three decades and continued to witness to the work and message of Jesus.

Although there are few details of Lazarus’s personality, it is not hard to imagine that his death and resurrection must have profoundly changed him. According to one story, seeing death made him very somber, and he smiled only once in his remaining thirty years.

Some scholars have suggested that Lazarus is the unnamed “Beloved Disciple” of John’s Gospel, a view that adds even more poignancy to the scene of Jesus’ grief outside the tomb of Lazarus.

In Western traditions, the witness of Lazarus is remembered, along with his sisters, on July 29. In the Orthodox church, the day before Palm Sunday is known as Lazarus Saturday—a foretaste of the joy of Easter Sunday as the church prepares for Holy Week.

Collect for Lazarus
Generous God, whose Son Jesus Christ enjoyed the friendship and hospitality of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany: Open our hearts to love you, our ears to hear you, and our hands to welcome and serve you in others, through Jesus Christ our risen Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-David Hansen

Esther vs. Lazarus of Bethany

  • Esther (78%, 6,276 Votes)
  • Lazarus (22%, 1,822 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,098

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Esther: Aert de Gelder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Lazarus: By Dimitar Vishanov Molerov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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215 comments on “Esther vs. Lazarus of Bethany”

    1. As a person of color; I thought this ‘match up’ mean. However, the most important thing that I’ve learned from Lent Madness
      Is to learn.

    1. Yes, Esther was a great Jewish patriot -- but this is the only book of the Old Testament in which the name of God is not mentioned! We talking about a contest of saints, here. How prayerful was Esther? Lazarus was a friend of Jesus, whose death (even though Jesus knew what he was going to do), was the occasion of what, in the RSV translation, is the shortest (and one of the most memorable) verses in the New Testament: "Jesus wept." And his death is the occasion of the great affirmation of faith by his sister Martha of Bethany "You are the Christ" and Jesus says "I am resurrection and I am life." Lazarus' story is and has been a great comfort to grieving Christians for 2,000 years. To add an interfaith touch, Lazarus is also respected and remembered by Muslims. There is a mosque in his honor right next to the traditional site of Lazarus' tomb.

      1. God is also not mentioned in the Song of Songs or Song of Solomon, whichever translation you are using.

        1. I believe God's name is mentioned in Song of Songs as an intensifier but not directly, like saying something is "heavenly" doesn't necessarily refer to the state of "heaven." Just FYI, not to disagree with your counterargument.

      2. That the book of Esther never mentions God is hardly a condemnation of Esther herself. After all, the book is in the canon of Scripture. How prayerful was Esther? Who knows? The book doesn't describer her prayer life. For that matter, The Gospel of John never says anything about the prayer life of Lazarus either.
        For the Jewish people, one of the major holidays is "Purim" : a celebration of Esther and her act of bravery. Christians for the most part ignore Esther, but not the Jewish faith. Also, many Muslims do likewise believe in the story of Esther, just like many of them believe in Lazarus.
        Maybe the book never mentions God because God in reality doesn't intervene through miracles nearly as often as through the bravery of ordinary people, taking leaps of faith when God seems most absent.
        Declarations of faith are all well and good, but it takes bravery to stand up to tyrants and save lives.

        1. As I understand it, the fact that God is not specifically mentioned in the Book of Esther, almost got it lumped in with the Apocrypha, a group of books originally included in scripture which were thrown out of later Jewish tradition as well as some, but not all, of Christian tradition. (RCs, members of the Anglican Communion, and presumably a few others still consider them to be part of the Bible.) This is all according to a Greek teacher I had in college, so take it as you will...

      3. Well, Esther invites her fellow Jews to pray and fast with her. Who are they praying to and what are they fasting for?

        1. they are praying to GOD - ADONAI. They are fasting the same way the Jewish people fast on Yom Kippur. I am not sure what you are asking.

        2. Excellent point! And the vote is for Lazarus not for Jesus's raising of Lazarus! I vote Esther!

      4. Given that Jews still hold up Esther as the pre-eminent example of Jewish womanhood (I went to my niece's Orthodox Bas-Mitzvah, and to this I can attest), I'm pretty sure that she's made the cut in terms of piety. Go Esther--but it's also not be quite so hard on Vashti when we teach about the book of Esther. 🙂

      5. Esther's story belongs in the canon for sure: it clearly has both historical realism and an account of God's will being made manifest. But the scholarship suggests the story is fictional--which doesn't diminish its canonicity or Esther the character as a model follower of God--but it does make me less inclined to vote for someone as a saint. (Not to say Lazarus' story is without fictional elements--but the resurrectional thrust is where I put my trust.) For instance, I'm all for voting for Harriet Beecher Stowe, but not as much for her saintly characters Tom and Eva.
        Furthermore, I don't vote for Old Testament characters on principle. Not because the Hebrews and Jews aren't God's people, but something important changed with the advent of the Messiah, Jesus, and that change opens the door for what I consider "saints" to exist, certain church's saints lists notwithstanding. This also excludes archangels.
        I'll just add that while I do value the story of Lazarus greatly, for reasons already mentioned, I'd be far happier to see Martha of Bethany compete for the Golden Halo again.

        1. Arnold, I am going to remember this one: "Not to say Lazarus’ story is without fictional elements–but the resurrectional thrust is where I put my trust."

          Thank you!

  1. Esther’s story has always even one of my favorites. She’s courageous and against the prevailing social order, turns a negative situation not of her choosing into the salvation of her people.

  2. Hard decision on a Monday morning. Lazarus, close friend of Jesus whom Jesus raised from the dead and brother of Martha and Mary or Esther who risked her life to save her people. After much pondering, I had to go with Esther.

  3. The write up considering today’s circumstances of many oppressed people made a clearer argument for what matters.

  4. I've loved the story of Esther since we learned it for an All Saints pageant at church as kids. But it holds special meaning for me now that I have interfaith (Episcopalian and Jewish) nephews, who celebrate Esther both as a Saint and during Purim (which is a ton of fun!)

  5. I like Lazarus more for his sister Mary who sat learning from Jesus while Martha worked, so he must have been a supportive brother. But I voted for Esther as affecting so many people.

  6. I heard a sermon preached a couple of weeks ago about Esther. The phrase "for such a time as this" stuck with me. Gotta go with Esther.

  7. Esther for me today. She used her privilege for the benefit of others. A great example for us today.

  8. Thanks to Lazurus, we get a demonstration of both Jesus' humanity and divinity. We witness his grieve at his friend's death and and then one of his greatest miracles. The story of Lazurus has always filled me with awe.

  9. I voted for Lazarus. In Jesus’ mourning for his friend, we see that Jesus was fully human just as he is fully divine.

      1. I am an Esther fan, admittedly. Curious to know why you say "it didn't happen" but the story of Lazarus is true?

  10. I love Queen Esther! But the Veggie Tales version does tend to creep in... "Nobody asked me whether I wanted to be Queen, anyway!"

  11. Esther all the way. But the SEC missed the obvious which would have been putting Esther's matchup on Wednesday, which is Purim.

  12. Had to go with Esther today - she took a great risk as a minority and made a difference in the time in which she lived for a whole nation of people. Sounds like she would fit right in today!!! Go Esther.

  13. This one is difficult. Esther was very diplomatic in her efforts to save her people, and she was successful. Not much is known about Lazarus did have to live a quiet life afraid of being looked upon as a strange man who was raised from the dead??

  14. If we knew for sure about the legends of Lazarus, I might have voted for him. but i have always loved Esther, even though she was sneaky just like Ruth and Naomi. Gutsy women. Esther got my vote.

  15. Have to go with Lazarus. He was Jesus's close friend and disciple and likely spent the next 30 years spreading the gospel. Have trouble relating to the older saints for some reason. I guess because Lent is about our Lord's life, ministry, death, resurrection. Our life !

    1. there ya go! Laz (that's our nickname for him) knows all about resurrection, and what's not to love about that???

  16. Amazing, a governmental official doing the right thing at the right time.
    Esther show us what happens when you take a chance for the right.
    If not for Esther, we wouldn't have Lazarus, so once again,
    the lady gets my vote.

  17. We hear of near death experiences and people who return to life talk about seeing a great light. I wonder what Lazarus saw and what he told his sisters of his experience. If we presume some of the tradition is true about Lazarus as a preacher to others about Jesus, he must have experienced something more profound than a 4 day sleep.

    You asked the bloggers which saint they would like to have a meal with and what would they serve. I think my choice might be Lazarus and I would serve eggs (resurrection symbol).

    But no, I didn't vote for Lazarus, as intriguing as the guesses might be. To stand up to power for justice's sake, speaks volumes -- especially in this day.

    1. I am shocked Ester is so far ahead - must be the ‘acting versus acted upon’ contrast? Or maybe the pull of Purim this week? I fully expected Lazarus to advance and thought I’d share this song in the kitsch round. But as today might be his only appearance in Lent Madness this year, I want to make all aware of this lovely yet haunting song “Lazarus” by singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer. It is from the perspective of Lazarus, alive after having been in the tomb for four days.

      1. Thank you for putting this song here about Lazarus! Carrie Newcomer is very inspirational singer. I never heard of her until today! I listened to her other songs as well. But Esther still got my vote!

        1. Glad you enjoyed Carrie - she is one of my favorites. A self-described ‘singing Quaker’, she is great in concert too so look for her in your area

  18. Esther, totally. But -- y'all should have had her match-up on Wednesday, so it timed with her holiday, Purim. 😉