Authored by Marie Story
An interesting study was done a few years back. Two dogs were given the command “shake.” Both raised their paw to shake hands; however, one dog was given a treat while the other wasn’t. After two or three rounds of this treatment, the dog without a treat quit obeying. The dog knew he was being treated unfairly, and he didn’t like it.1
If dogs, as uncomplicated as they are, can understand when something isn’t fair, how much more will people know when they’re being treated unfairly, or when there’s a disproportion to the way they are being treated as opposed to how that person is treating someone else? While none of us would intentionally treat others so unfairly, it can be an easy thing to fall into without even realizing it.
Deuteronomy 25:13–14 warns about this. It tells us, “Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy and one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small.”2 This is referring to business dealings. Very simply, it’s saying, “treat others fairly in business and don’t cheat.” As I think about this command, though, I find the meaning to be a little broader than that.
How often do we walk around with different weights in our bags? How often do we measure out great amounts of kindness to those we care for, yet very little to those we might have a more difficult time getting along with? How often do we show partiality to some and indifference to others?
We offer a smile and a kind word for a friend, but a cold shoulder to that annoying classmate. We’ve got a ready helping hand for a buddy when he needs it, but our schedules are all booked up when the request comes from someone we don’t care for.
We’re happy to give money to a friend in need, but we try not to see the homeless guy on the street corner.
While there are numerous (and sometimes valid) reasons why giving or helping or treating others fairly isn’t always possible in every situation, I think we have to be careful not to make excuses for partiality. Instead of asking ourselves, “Why should I help this person?” or “Why should I show kindness to this person?” we should be asking, “Why not?”
After all, isn’t that how Jesus treated people? While He obviously had a closer relationship with some folks than with others, He was completely impartial, completely loving, and completely fair to each person He came in contact with. From powerful government officials to outcast lepers, from intellectual religious leaders to simple day laborers, He treated them all with love and impartiality. What’s more impressive (and a million times more difficult) is that His fairness and kindness extended even to those who treated Him poorly—those who abused and mocked Him, and those who killed Him.
In my case, I find impartiality difficult because it means that I have to forget myself completely. If we’re truly honest, in the recesses of our minds, we’re (perhaps subconsciously) making calculations, weighing things out to see what returns we might get on each investment of self. We’re naturally more inclined to be partial to those who are likely to return the good will, the favor, or the kindness. If we’re unlikely to get anything out of it, it’s easy to walk away.
In 1775, a man, who appeared to be a farmer or common laborer, tried to book a room in the fanciest hotel in Baltimore. The manager, afraid for the hotel’s reputation, denied the man a room. He left without a word and found a room elsewhere.
Not long afterward, the manager discovered that the man he had turned away was Thomas Jefferson (then vice president of the United States). Realizing his error, the manager sent a letter to Jefferson, inviting him to come back to the hotel as his guest. Jefferson sent a letter back, saying, “I value your good intentions highly, but if you have no place for an American farmer, you have no right giving hospitality to the vice president of the United States.”3
The manager of that hotel had no idea who he was turning away, and his unfairness ended up costing him. It’s rare that our actions have consequences this obvious, but as the story so aptly portrays, it shouldn’t matter how insignificant the person might seem to our welfare. The Bible tells us to esteem others as better than ourselves.4 If we’re looking at things that way, what reason is there not to treat everyone with respect, love, and fairness?
Mother Teresa worked with the poorest of the poor—people who had nothing to offer her in exchange for all she did for them. She also entertained celebrities and heads of state. What I find stunning about her life is that she treated each one with the same respect and love. She didn’t reserve better treatment for those that the world deemed more “important.”
One day she was visited by a bishop who had come to observe her works of compassion and love. She asked him, “Would you like to see Jesus?” She then took him to see a man lying on a black pallet. The man was sick and naked; his body was crawling with vermin. As the bishop stood there, stunned, Mother Teresa knelt down and wrapped her arms around the poor man. She held him close and said, “Here He is.”
“Who?” the bishop asked, puzzled.
“Jesus,” replied Mother Teresa. “Didn’t He say you’d find Him in the least person on earth? Isn’t this Jesus challenging us to reach out and love?”5
She considered everyone to be equally deserving of love, because she saw Jesus in each one. Mother Teresa said something beautiful that I think will always stick with me: “[Jesus] makes Himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one, the sick one, the one in prison, the lonely one, the unwanted one, and He says: ‘You did it to Me.’”6
Jesus has told us that whatever we do (or fail to do) for even the “least of these,” we have done (or failed to do) those things to Him.7 It’s rare that you will be called upon to love in such extreme physical conditions as Mother Teresa faced; more often, we are faced with the unkindness of others, or our own prejudices or indifference. No matter what challenges we face, unconditional love should be our aim so that when Jesus tells us, “You did it to Me,” He is happy about it.
1 Dogs Understand Unfairness, Get Jealous, Study finds, NPR
2 New International Version
4 Philippians 2:3
7 Matthew 25:45
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright © 2012 by The Family International