In a series of experiments conducted a few years back, dogs were given the command “shake,” and they were normally happy to do so whether they got a reward or not. However, researchers found that if the dogs saw that another dog was being rewarded and they weren’t, they began hesitating to obey the command and eventually stopped cooperating altogether. The dogs knew when they were being treated unfairly, and they didn’t like it.[ “Dogs Understand Unfairness, Get Jealous, Study Finds” ] If even dogs can understand when something isn’t fair, how much more will people know when they’re being treated unfairly!
Deuteronomy 25:13–14 warns 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.” Very simply, God is saying, “Treat others fairly and don’t cheat.” However, I think there’s a broader application as well.
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 about yet very little to those we have a more difficult time getting along with or don’t know as well? How often do we show partiality to some and indifference to others?
We offer a smile and a kind word to 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 about.
We’re happy to loan or even give money to a friend in need, but we try not to see the homeless person on the street corner.
While there are reasons why giving or helping or treating others equally isn’t possible in every situation, very often we’re simply falling prey to 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 wouldn’t I?”
While it’s logical to assume that Jesus had a closer relationship with His disciples, for instance, than with some others, when we examine His life, we find that He treated everyone—from government officials to outcast lepers, from religious leaders to simple day laborers—with respect and consideration Even more impressive, His fairness and kindness extended even to those who treated Him poorly, those who abused and mocked Him, and even those who killed Him!
In my case, I find acting with impartiality difficult, because it means that I have to forget myself completely. It’s human nature to be constantly calculating and weighing things out in the recesses of our minds 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.
Mother Teresa is someone who didn’t make such calculations. Her giving was to the poorest of the poor—people who had nothing to offer her in exchange for all she did. She also interacted with celebrities and heads of state, and one thing 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 whom the world deemed more “important.”
One day she asked a visiting bishop, “Would you like to see Jesus?” Then she took him to see a man lying on a black pallet. The man was sick and gaunt, and his body was crawling with vermin.
Before the stunned bishop, Mother Teresa knelt down and wrapped her arms around the poor man. She held him close and said, “Here He is. Didn’t He say you’d find Him in the least person on earth?” Mother Teresa considered everyone to be equally deserving of love, because she saw Jesus in each one.
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) to Him.[See Matthew 25:45.] It’s rare that we are 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, though, unconditional love should be our aim, so that when Jesus tells us, “What you did to others, you did to Me,” it’s something He’s happy about.