Connections 07.10.2022: Being Good

Luke 10:25-37

There are times when reading, reflecting on, and writing about Scripture is a relatively easy, fun endeavor. (Admittedly, I may have an unusual definition of “fun.”) There are texts that come alongside us with an arm around our shoulders, bolstering us or consoling us or gently leading us in a Godward direction.

Then there are texts that get in our faces, taking us to task, forcing us to look at the world around us, and pointing out how what we thought we knew is painfully wrong. They call us out, demanding that we come to terms with the Bible and with ourselves. They remind us that we aren’t as smart or—especially—as good as we think we are.

Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is one of these in-your-face stories masquerading as a feel-good friend. It seems like writing about this parable should be easy and fun, a hero-saves-the-day tale with the happiest ending: We can all be Good Samaritans! But this week, Jesus’ teaching hits me like a ton of bricks. As I read Jesus’ words, with the headlines of current events running in my head, my attention locks in on the priest and the Levite as they move briskly past the broken man in the ditch.

They aren’t bad guys at all. In fact, they are good—very good—guys. They are faithfully good. Religiously good. They are absolutely committed to following God’s instructions, and to “being good” in every way that God’s inspired word commands. In their literal understanding, by avoiding the dying man, they are keeping their goodness and their faith tradition intact. They are clear about right and wrong, and they know that God has called them to live a good life defined by God’s good law. They can walk away from the dying man and presumably never give him another thought. They are confident and content that they have saved their own souls. Secure in their goodness, they will never know how they have failed the injured man. They will never know how they have failed God.

We can all be Good Samaritans.

But it’s a lot easier to “be good.” “Being good” lets us off the hook of having to make messy decisions, deal with difficult people, or empty our pockets to care for someone else’s misfortunes or choices we don’t like. “Being good” lets us walk away untouched and untouchable, confident and content that we have preserved ourselves and our traditions. “Being good” lets us never look back at those we leave broken behind us, especially when it is our faithful, religious goodness that breaks them.

“Being good” keeps us from seeing our neighbors, and it keeps us from being neighbors. It keeps us from giving life to those who suffer. It keeps us from being truly Good.

Discussion

  • We often try to imagine ourselves into Jesus’ parables, relating to one particular character and seeing the story from that character’s point of view. When you explore a parable, do you usually see yourself more in the characters who seem “good” in Jesus’ estimation? Do you ever see yourself in the characters Jesus seems to be criticizing? What can you learn by relating to the priest and the Levite?
  • It is important to remember that priest and Levite are not ignoring the injured man because they are a couple of jerks. In fact, it is quite the opposite; they are doing exactly what they understand God’s law to command. In this way, they are acting faithfully. When has your faithfulness to religious belief kept you from taking an action that might help someone?
  • How do you discern which of your beliefs about God’s laws—and which of your commitments to your faith tradition—are most important to uphold, even if it means someone may suffer as a consequence of your faithfulness? How do you feel about those who come behind you to help the people you don’t?
  • How would it feel to let go of the desire or expectation to “be good”?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.

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