The first reading is a dramatic story recounting the deliverance of the Jews from grave danger through a heroine. The palace of King Xerxes I (486-464 BC) in Susa is the setting of the book of Esther. After renouncing Queen Vashti, the King marries Esther, a Jewess, who was the most beautiful in the kingdom. Haman, the king’s vizier, designated a day of slaughter for all Jews in the empire. But Esther and Mordecai, her uncle, thwarted Haman’s plot. Haman was hanged in the gallows meant originally for Mordecai. The king then appointed Mordecai to be his vizier because he was able to uncover the plot against him. The reading today narrates Esther’s prayer to Yahweh before she talks to the king about the plot of Haman against her people. The book of Esther, and thus, her prayer, is built on the belief that those who trust in the Lord will be delivered in all their needs; that evildoers will perish in the trap they had set for the innocent. Here Esther prays on behalf of her people who are in danger: this type of prayer is called intercessory prayer.
When we pray on behalf of others, our work is an act of love. When we are truly concerned about other people’s needs and desperate situation, and we desire more than what we can give, we are drawn to pray to God who can give all that we ask for. Esther’s intercessory prayer is not the only one we see in Scripture. When Joshua was in battle with the Amalekites, Moses raised his hands on his behalf on a hill that overlooked the battleground. When Moses brought his hands to rest, Joshua began to be defeated. So Aaron and Hur who were with Moses would prop Moses hands up. Without Moses’ intercessory prayer, Joshua would have been defeated.
Jesus said that as He goes to His father, anything asked in His name will be granted. It means that He would go to His Father on our behalf. Jesus intercedes and mediates for us. St. Ambrose said, “Unless He intercedes, there is no intercourse with God either for us or for all the saints.” Thus, when we pray on behalf of other people’s needs, whether alone or with a community like the Prayers of the Faithful at mass, Jesus is the mediator or Intercessor. And in addition, when we pray on behalf of others, we perform our common priesthood. Psalm 138 assures us that on the day we would seek God’s help, He would answer our prayer. The Gospel today states that all we have to do is to persist in praying: to knock repeatedly on heaven’s door.
As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, it is appropriate to pray on behalf of the people we love. We can either accompany our roses and chocolates with intercessory prayers for them, or we can do away with the flowers by simply praying for their needs and their well-being. Come to think of it: we have always associated prayers with flowers and persistence: like the repeated Hail Marys in the rosary, they are regarded as roses to Our Mother.
But on the other hand, there is some practical value to prayer. It is cheap — not like real roses. And it lasts — not like the shop flowers that does not stay forever.