‘Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace to men who enjoy his favour.’
Do you belong to that exclusive group of people, to those who enjoy his favour? That’s a tricky question to answer. If you say ‘Yes’ you might be presuming that you’re a better kind of person than those who do not enjoy his favour, and therefore you could be guilty of making a biased distinction between yourself and others. We can see what happens when people consider themselves superior to others on religious grounds – from inferiority, through persecution, to killing and even genocide. Of course, religion itself isn’t exclusively capable of such malevolence; there’s no shortage of political or social ideologies adept at mistreating those they consider to be inferior. Here’s the key to answering that question I’ve just posed – religion becomes dangerous when people transform it into an ideology.
So, do you belong to that exclusive group, to those who enjoy his favour? It’s still a tricky question to answer. What does the word favour actually mean? According to a dictionary ‘some English speakers likely know this word.’ For those who don’t, here are a couple of definitions from the same dictionary: a) something done or granted out of goodwill, rather than from justice or for remuneration; a kind act; b) friendly or well-disposed regard; goodwill; c) the state of being approved or held in regard. I hope these descriptions can help you to establish whether or not you belong to those who enjoy God’s favour. Have you ever experienced God’s kindness, God’s friendly regard or approval from God? Or have you rather felt abandoned and forgotten, or unfairly judged and condemned? If the latter is a prevalent feeling for you, perhaps you do not enjoy his favour…
Certainly Jesus, the Son of God, did enjoy his favour, as did Jesus’ mother and his foster father Joseph. It’s obvious. You can see that when after a long and uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem they had to stay in a stable; the baby Jesus was born among domestic animals, his mother wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Surely the Son of God and the future Saviour of the world should have received preferential treatment… How could God have permitted that poverty-stricken situation if Jesus, Mary and Joseph really had enjoyed his favour? Now, here’s the misconception at the heart of many religious disappointments and frustrations: the idea that God will protect me from adversity, affliction, hardship, suffering, trouble, and from every other undesirable happening.
In the New Testament, there were all kinds of people gravitating towards Jesus. The afflicted, the destitute, the mentally and physically ill, fraudsters and cheats, prostitutes, quislings… The list is very long indeed. All those people were looking for Jesus because he was giving them hope and support; he didn’t condemn them as sinners, but he helped them to change their lives for the better. There was a spontaneous community of sinners on their way to sainthood. That community was built on the faith of twelve cowards; one of them turned out to be a traitor. But there was yet another community there; a community of individuals whose self-perception of their own perfection was an armour-plated shell that Jesus’ message was unable to penetrate. The individuals’ collective name was the Pharisees; in their own eyes they were utterly impeccable and holy. They felt they didn’t need any favour.
In the light of what I’ve said, you yourself can find your personal answer to this tricky question: do you belong to that exclusive group of those who enjoy his favour? God’s favour for you is revealed every time when you stand in front of him and you genuinely say: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’