My husband used to watch The Sopranos religiously. I for one, have never enjoyed any mob-related tv show or movie. The reason being is in order for the “Mob” to be successful it requires a willing citizenry to, at best, look away or at its worst, show favoritism. Never has there been more a blatant example than the Italian Mafia and the Catholic Church. Until recently the mafia had unfettered access to the church in Italy. Many priests would almost be part of the “family.” And why? There lies the question of favoritism.
James goes on to ask the reader what they would do if you saw a beggar and a rich man enter your church. Who would get the seat of honor? And why? It’s typical for churches to seat VIPs front and center. But did you know churches didn’t have places to sit for about 1,400 years? During the protestant reformation, churches began selling boxes to the wealthy for them to sit in, along with their families and special guests. The poor still had to stand at the back. And of course, there’s the private wings so common throughout Italian churches where wealthy families have their patriarch’s painting and own altar. It’s as though the entire biblical message about favoritism had been lost.
The underlying theme of favoritism comes down to a perceived value — real or imagined. Yes, we can say people are afraid of the mob. But they sure did love the money those mafia families provided the Italian churches and other communities in which they currently operate. Favoritism also is born of the desire for power or fame. Which results in, typically, more money.
“Privileged groups work for greater power consolidation through favoritism.”Bryant McGill, Voice of Reason
In other words, we humans love to have other humans adore us and vice versa. We favor those we think can provide us more wealth and power. This is not based on race, color, etc. If someone has what we desire, we’ll cozy up to them. It’s not reserved for just adult relationships. “Stage moms,” “dance moms,” “band dads,” “pool parents” are just some examples of how we adults use children to elevate ourselves. We make sure our kid is friends with the best athlete on the team so they can be “in.” Or we just promote our kid to anyone who will listen, thereby rubbing some shine on us.
The dangers of favoritism and the sins it fosters can been seen throughout the Bible. Stories of brotherly jealousy (Joseph and that coat!), wives wanting to be favored (Rachael and Leah), kings worried about losing power (Saul vs David) and whole churches fighting over leadership (Corinth) all include favoritism within.
And yet it’s God’s words that tell us to treat people equally – even our slaves. We are admonished to “Treat your slaves in the same way (as the slaves are to treat their masters). Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven and there is no favoritism in him.” Note, the subject of slavery was different at that time. Many people sold themselves into slavery to pay off debts or even to be under a “master” who would take care of all their needs. Even professionals – such as doctors, artists, etc – sometimes made this choice.
The funny thing about God is He is always looking for ways to teach us and get us to see His truth of Love, Mercy and Forgiveness. Like showing favoritism to a mobster, the true consequences are what we would normally wish to avoid. Frequently the person or group receiving the favor will then wield that power and authority over you. We see this when Jesus speaks in the synagogue.
“Beware of the teachers of the Law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.”Luke 20:46
And all the people bowed to them as they walked around like “cock of the walks.” Showing them favoritism while spitting on Jesus. But here’s the result:
“They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished severely.”
Today we favor celebrities, overlooking all their sins. For a glance from them some would pay any price. We favor famous pastors and pretend we don’t see how they twist scripture. We favor politicians because they know how to say just the right things to make us feel good, even though their years of actions are in direct opposition to us. We favor certain races because its “socially aware.” We might favor one of our children or a teacher, a student in our class, a player on the team we coach, or someone with a higher status. But we must also be aware that favoritism toward what we’d think wouldn’t be in this category is wrong — toward the perceived “lesser.” Those that expend hate for the rich because of a supposed love for the poor are still in the wrong. What they get out of this type of outrage is a sense of piety. Even being a champion of the disabled while having disdain for able-bodied is not equality. It doesn’t matter if the subject of your favoritism is rich, poor, black or white, high or low in status, young or old, the Bible is clear — it’s wrong. The sin comes in what we expect out of that favoritism and what have we done to those “out” of our favor. It creeps into our lives sometimes without us being fully aware. And what’s worse, it can bring out hatred. We can feel jealously while still favoring others. People outside our little “clicks” feel left out, ignored or even abused.
It reminds me of a children’s book I once read and it helps me to put it all in perspective. It’s a reminder that everyone that day will poop. A very “undignified” and messy action that everyone, no matter their status, wealth, race, color or creed will undertake. The pope, the US president, Lebron James, Tom Brady, Oprah, Lionel Messi, Christina Aguilera, the mafia boss, your mayor, your pastor, your mother in law, the homeless person, you. Everybody poops. God did that. I think it’s one of His little winks.
Write down all the people or groups you tend to favor. Pray about how you can flip that script and treat people equally.