Why people are more likely to defend their hamburger than another person

People are nearly eight times more likely to stand up for their hamburger than the harassed stranger sitting at the table next to them. That’s according to a recent test from Burger King where the fast food giant used adolescent actors to stage a scene where a young man was bullied by a group of teens in one of their stores. At the same time, the cooks “bullied” a number of hamburgers before wrapping them up and delivering them to the same group of patrons.

Of those who received a smashed hamburger, 95 percent took it back and complained, often with great anger, about the state of their dinner. By comparison, a sparse 12 percent stepped in to intervene on behalf of the young man who was bullied, or even simply checked on him after the incident ended.

Perhaps the only thing more disheartening than the results of that survey is that it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. People have long preyed upon the weak around them, and history demonstrates that it’s relatively rare for people to step in when they don’t have a personal stake in the matter. Sadly, that’s often just as true for Christians as it is for everyone else.

To those whose lives are to be modeled after Christ, such a state of cowardice in the face of oppression, whether or not we are the ones being oppressed, should be just as repugnant as the sins of those perpetrating the heinous acts. Much of Jesus’ ministry was spent standing up for those his culture mistreated and showing mercy for the people who often knew little more than judgment. In one of Craig Denison’s First15 devotionals, he examined just such an example from the life of Christ.

In John 8:2–11, the religious leaders bring a woman caught in adultery before Jesus. They cited Moses’ command that a woman caught in adultery should be stoned and asked Jesus his opinion on the matter. It is a story I have read and studied before, but God opened my eyes to see it in a new light through the context of God’s grace that Craig provided.

What stood out most was verse 6, where John explains that the religious leaders brought the woman before Jesus “as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.” For their question to Jesus to be a trap, however, they had to go into it expecting Christ to show the woman a level of grace that exceeded their understanding of the Law.

You see, mercy was such a fundamental part of Jesus’ character and ministry that the religious leaders knew he would not condemn this woman according to their rules. However, what they saw as a negative was always God’s true purpose for the Law: to remind us of both the standards to which we are called to live as well as our inability to meet them apart from his help. The way Christ showed grace to the woman who needed it while also calling her to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11) encapsulated that balance and defined much of his ministry.

I wonder, though, can the same be said of us? Are our lives so defined by mercy and grace that others will know that condemnation will not be our first response when we’re made aware of their sin? Will our experiences of God’s love fill us with such gratitude for the mercy we’ve been shown that we can’t help but share it with those around us?

As one Burger King patron told reporters, “I’ve been that [bullied] kid, so if I see it, I’m going to do something about it. And I hope there’s more people out there like that.” There should be at least 2.2 billion such people in the world today as that’s how many profess to have received the mercy and grace of a God who stepped in to end our oppression and provide a pathway to freedom through the sacrifice of his Son.

Will you be one of them?