The Consequence of Playing Favorites

February 14, 2021

Life, for the most part, is a constant pursuit of being ‘the favorite:’  Daddy’s little girl, Momma’s boy, teacher’s pet, best friends. There’s so little contentment in being loved and valued as ‘one of;’ only being ‘the favorite’ will do!  

Such favoritism results in bitter competition, hatred, and the death of relationships and peaceful community.  

Examples are everywhere in the Bible: Cain and Abel Genesis 4:1-7), Sarai and Hagar (Genesis 21:8-10),  Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:27-28), and that’s just in Genesis!

Those vying for most favored status were usually accommodated at great cost; accommodated that is, until Jesus.  

The Lord wouldn’t play the ‘favorites game,’ even though members of Jesus’ inner circle vied for favored status.  (Matthew 20:20-21; John 21:20-23)

God loves all  (John 3:16). God’s love is unconditional (Luke 6:35; Matthew 5:43-48).  The Son of God showed no favoritism, just gracious and compassionate love for all (Psalm 145:8-9).  

Unfortunately, this is a lesson we struggle to learn; the consequences are all around us, even when we think playing favorites is the right thing to do!

So, since I believe we often learn most easily when we look at examples beyond ourselves, consider Joseph, the subject of last week’s blog, again. 

Joseph is a prime example of how even the best among us can play favorites, thinking we are doing the right thing, without any consideration of consequences down the road.

  • Joseph was his daddy, Jacob’s (Israel), favorite (Genesis 37:3); the child of Israel’s beloved wife, Rachel.
    • Because of Joseph’s favored status, there were unintended consequences: he became the family snitch.
  • The consequences for the whole family: sibling hatred and polarization which landed Joseph in slavery in Egypt. 

We know Joseph outlived the consequences of that early favoritism, and rose to the top, but he still had much to learn!

  • A famine was coming to Egypt; Joseph had a plan.  
    • During the years of plenty, Joseph would gather the grain from all over Egypt and put it in silos in anticipation of the coming famine– GREAT IDEA!  
    • BUT, he didn’t reimburse the farmers for the grain gathered and gave them no credit for their contributions.
    • When the famine hit, the people had to buy back their own grain at great cost: giving over their money, their livestock, their land, and finally their freedom to Joseph! (Genesis 47:13-21)

But where is the favoritism? Everyone seems equally miserable.

The favoritism comes when we consider how differently Joseph treated his own family.  

Remember, Joseph’s family fled to Egypt to escape the famine in their homeland of Canaan. 

Because Joseph was Pharaoh’s favorite, his family was given the choicest of lands in Goshen and put in the Pharaoh’s employ when others had nothing (Genesis 45:16-20; Genesis 47:1-12). Picture it: Joseph’s family living on easy street while the Egyptians were impoverished and enslaved in their own land.  Favoritism!

The consequences of these actions wouldn’t appear until 400 years later.

Read the chilling words in Exodus 1:8Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.  The entitled became the enslaved.  The consequences of favoritism manifest in bitterness, hatred, and payback!

We can learn a lot from Joseph!

+ + +

In our own families, there is often favoritism – which is also not without its consequences.  Children tattle on siblings in attempts to shine brightly as the favorite. The children who don’t feel favored often bully and exclude, distancing themselves from not only their ‘entitled’ siblings, but from their parents as well.  More often than not, the child’s identity is tied up in being either the favorite or the ‘difficult/bad child.’  Favoritism determines which label applies.

This bitterness often hardens as the siblings age. How often have we heard about wills bitterly contested by siblings?

Favoritism is present in our nation as well.  Every four/eight years, we pick a new leader, with a new set of favorites and favored legislation.  Such legislation is often reactive to an immediate injustice, but unmindful of the consequences to the whole.  

In subsequent administrations, these legislation is overridden and new laws take their place – with a ‘new sheriff in town,’ comes new favorites with new needs.  In other words: Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph  

In this environment, the favored and unfavored are constantly changing roles at such a pace that the consequences are dramatic and, as we have seen over the years, bitterly violent and unforgiving.  No one is quite sure of their identity – beyond the names they are called and those names they spew at others! 

Such is the nature of things in the world today – the broken human nature.  

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  

What if we let go of our broken human nature and instead tried to assimilate God’s nature of wholeness and righteousness?

What if:

  • Instead of playing favorites and exacerbating an already bitter, hateful and violent climate in our world, we actually lived according to Christ’s teaching of unconditional love and equal treatment of all – even of our ‘enemies.’
  • Instead looking for flaws and reasons to hate others, we looked for ‘favorite’ unique qualities in them and lifted up and affirmed those God given gifts 

What difference would it make?  

According to scripture, living out this teaching of love that Christ offers is what will bring God’s kingdom to earth.

Because here’s the truth: God doesn’t play favorites – so neither should we. We are all God’s favorites. Understanding that truth changes us.

But is that what we want: to be loved and to love no more and no less than others? To treat each other as equals in value and love before God – and celebrate that equality in each other? The consequence would be a world identified by compassion rather than judgment, a world healed, whole, and at peace.

Or do we prefer to vie to always be the ‘favorite,’ to be better than – the consequences of mounting bitterness and brokenness in the world be damned, as long as we win?

There are always consequences whichever we choose.

The thing is, life isn’t intended to be a game of favorites and we can choose not to play.

The choice is ours: continue to play the game of favorites or live for Christ – a life in which everyone is loved and cherished as the favorite child. Wonder what we’ll choose…..

And to God be the glory!  AMEN

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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