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In Favor

by Tim O'Hearn

Politicians, actors, and preachers are often said to have “charisma.” Nobody seems to be able to quite define this ineffable quality; they just know it when they see it. Charisma just seems to be some mysterious force that a person is born with that enables them to be liked by everybody. Several people in scripture are said to have “found favor” in the eyes of other people. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Luke 2:52) The word translated “favour” in this verse is the Greek word from which we derive the term charisma.

The story of Esther relies on her finding favor in the king’s eyes. It is her charisma that makes her a queen, seemingly against her own best efforts. At the risk of her life, she plays the charisma card in order to get the king to come to a banquet she has prepared. At that banquet she relies on her charisma to ask the king to save her people. It is because of the charisma Esther possessed that the holiday of Purim is celebrated even to this day.

Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld points out that Esther and her uncle, Mordechai, actually do not do much in the story. Mostly they have events act upon them. In spite of this, or perhaps because of this, they obtain the favor of the people around them, and (although he is never mentioned in the story) of God.

The trait of favor / charm seems to function on an unknowable plane influenced by G-d alone. Such a person possesses a certain charm which cannot be measured with our physical senses -- but the beholder gets a sense there is something special about this person, something he can't quite put his finger on. Such a person naturally becomes popular and admired. The media just likes him, no rhyme or reason to it, and no one really knows why. (http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter6-648b.html)

If this favor operates on a plane influenced solely by God, then perhaps it is so indescribable to most people because most people do not know the God who influences it. Esther found favor with the king, the Israelites found favor with the Egyptians just before the exodus, Miriam (Mary) found favor with God and bore his Son, all because they chose to allow God to work in them. Jesus found favor with men because he found favor with God.

Is this charisma, this favor, limited to only a few people? Does someone have to be destined for greatness to possess it? Hardly. Charisma is available to everyone, if they will but come to God on his terms. Charisma is offered to all, because the word sometimes translated “favor” is more often, from the Greek, translated “grace.” Esther, Israel, Miriam, Jesus, Peter, Paul, Tom, Dick, and Harry. All are recipients of the grace of God. It is that grace in God’s people that causes them to have favor in the sight of men. People don’t know why they like Christians. It is really because God is living in those Christians. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 5:16)

It is this same word that is sometimes used for the prayer before or after a meal. (Many Christians say grace before the meal; Jews always say grace after the meal.) This is the phrase Paul sometimes used: Thanks be to God. Literally this is “to God, grace.” So not only are we blessed because of the favor/grace of God; we can grant him a measure of favor is well.

Esther approached the king, saying, “If I have found favor in your sight.” In her mind there never was a question of “if.” She knew she had found favor in the king’s sight because she had favor in God’s sight. It was not “if” in the sense of maybe I have and maybe I haven’t. It was “if” in the sense of “since.” When we follow God, and do what he wills us to do and be whom he wills us to be, we can come before the King of kings and say “Since I have found favor in your sight.” Those who choose not to follow must say, “If only I have found favor in your sight.” God’s favor is of such value that those two statements make a world of difference.

Purim begins at sunset on March 19 in 2011.