Justifying Ourselves

By Michaela O’Donnell

June 13, 2020

Scripture: Luke 10:29 (NIV)

 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”


As we engage in the work of anti-racism, are we doing so because we want to justify ourselves or because we are deeply committed to what God might be doing?


The parable of the Good Samaritan has become central to my life and work over the last two years. That’s because the passage is at the heart of an experience we’ve developed at the De Pree Center, called The Road Ahead: a cohort that helps people make spiritual sense of the season of work they’re in and discern next steps on the road ahead.

This week, as I reread the parable for the one zillionth time with one of our cohorts, something new jumped off the page. The phrase, “But he wanted to justify himself” echoed over and over in my head. As I sat with it, it felt like an important lens for me as a white woman to examine my participation in the work of anti-racism.

I’m encouraged by the swell of organizing and protesting in the wake of George Floyd’s death. I’m encouraged to hear more white people proclaiming that Black lives matter. I’m encouraged that more people are awakening to the fact that our systems and institutions are hardly ever equitable. I’m encouraged that folks in the Church are saying more to honor the fact that Black lives are sacred and central in the family of God. But, for all the hope I have, I also wonder a bit about deeper intentions.

But he wanted to justify himself.

But he wanted to justify himself.

Because I’m white, I can’t help but notice what white people are doing in this moment. And, I can’t help but wonder if part of what’s happening is a desire for white people to justify ourselves. Obviously, as this question has crept into my heart, I’ve had to face my own motives before I can invite anyone else to do so.

Here’s what I’ve got so far: it’s a critical moment for us white folks (and other non-Blacks) to join in or ramp up in the work of anti-racism. We’re in a historical, well-organized moment that should catalyze hundreds of years of un-learning as a country. But in order to fully engage in this critical moment, we have to be willing to examine our intentions.

Are we showing up so because we’re truly committed to doing the work? Or are we showing up because we want to justify ourselves?

For me, examining our intentions comes down to peeling back the layers of everyday actions. I have to ask myself, when I post an article or a picture on social media, am I doing so because I deeply believe in the message or so that I can feel like I did my part today? When I protest, I have to ask myself: am I doing this to show up and learn and listen? Or so that I can be perceived by others as an ally?

The core of the issue is this: are we truly and deeply disturbed by white supremacy?  If so, are we willing to do our own internal work so that we can more effectively join in what God is doing? Are we willing to do not only the things that can be caught on camera but the things that can’t? Are we willing to have tough conversations with people that no one will ever see? Are we willing to read books we’ll never get credit for? Are we willing to redirect how we spend our money? Are we willing to speak up on behalf of equity in the workplace and in our friend circles? Are we willing to do the hard, painful work that will eventually cost us something?


How are you feeling with all that’s happening around race in America? How do you feel when you read that the lawyer wanted to “justify himself”? Can you relate?


Think about how you’ve joined in/didn’t join in what’s happening around race in America? Make a list if it’s helpful. Then, work to examine your intentions, offering each one to God who can handle it, and loves you right where you are.


God, thank you for the gift of parables. Thank you for this story that helps us examine our own intentions. God, help me to be brave as I examine my intentions and seek to join you in your work in the world. Thank you that you are a merciful, gracious God who loves me just as I am. Amen.

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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling Archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: Parable of the Good Samaritan

Michaela O’Donnell

Mary and Dale Andringa Executive Director

Michaela is the Mary and Dale Andringa Executive Director Chair at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership. She is also an assistant professor of marketplace leadership and the lead professor for Fuller Seminary’s Doctor of Global Leadership, Redemptive Imagination in the Marketplace progr...

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