What better way to come in and out of Super Bowl Sunday than by reading the Bible? And even better, by reading a book that features much duplicity, bad behavior by men (including binge drinking and temper tantrums), and a woman who saves her people?
OK, first give Ezra and Nehemiah a skim, noting how they combine to form an interesting picture of a people trying to rebuild themselves on their return from exile: establishing a new Temple, setting up the priesthood all over again, hearing the reading of the Law to remember who they are – it's a poignant picture of the revitalization of a community that was nearly destroyed, and these two books (organized as a single book in Jewish Bibles) cap the sweeping historical narrative we've been working through this past month. As always, focus on the essential stories on the reading schedule - but here I would also suggest a quick look at the last two chapters of Ezra (9-10) and the problematic issue of intermarriage that scapegoats "foreign women." (And don't get lost in the genealogies!)
But then turn to Esther, the strange and wonderful book to which I was referring in the opening paragraph. Set in the Persian capital, it never mentions God by name, and scholars enjoy debating whether its heroine is a portrait of a proto-feminist learning to wield power or a compliant woman using her subordinate position and "feminine wiles" to get what she wants. You choose! Seriously: Esther invokes an early attempt at a genocide of the Jewish people, yet mixes humor, faith, and quick thinking to provide us with the story that lies behind the Jewish festival of Purim.