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The Good “Bad Guy”

May 31, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 10:30-37 (NRSV)

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Focus

In the parable we know as The Good Samaritan, Jesus tells the story of someone who would have been despised by his audience. In the first century, Samaritans and Jews detested each other for a variety of historical, cultural, and religious reasons. With this story, Jesus invites us to consider our prejudices, our deep dislike of certain people because they are “one of those people.” Jesus invites us to imagine a world in which those we look down upon are, in fact, people of sacrificial love.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

When you read the title of this devotion – “The Good Bad Guy” – you may have thought that sounded a little odd. But then, as you began to read the biblical passage, you realized that today’s text is the parable known as “The Good Samaritan.” Why, then, call this devotion “The Good Bad Guy”?

My title approaches this parable from the perspective of first-century Jews. As you may know, the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along well in the time of Jesus. In fact, it would be true to say that they despised each other. There was a long, complicated history of conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans, who lived in the region of Samaria between Galilee on the north and Judea on the south, believed that they were faithful descendants of the ancient Israelites. Jews, however, regarded the Samaritans as “half-breeds” and religious heretics. After all, they had their own temple and their own distinctive version of the Mosaic law. Tensions between these two historically related peoples were exacerbated by the fact that they sometimes were on opposing sides in military conflicts. The fact that a Jewish high priest, John Hyrcanus I, commanded the destruction of the Samaritan temple in the second century B.C. had exacerbated the bad relations between Jews and Samaritans.

This history helps us to understand something about Jesus’s parable that is essential. He purposefully chose the archetypal “bad guy” to serve as the “good guy” in the story. This must have grated on the ears of the Jewish legal expert who was the primary audience for Jesus’s story, not to mention any others who were listening.

When I read the story of “The Good Bad Guy, AKA Samaritan,” I don’t intuitively feel any negativity toward the Samaritan. I know the history, but I don’t have any emotional baggage when it comes to people from Samaria. Therefore, if I’m going to open my heart to this story, I need to relate it to my own situation. I need to ask myself the uncomfortable question: Who are my “Samaritans”?

Almost all human beings have people we consider to be “Samaritans.” Often, like the historical Samaritans in relationship to Jews, they are people with whom we have certain things in common. Consider my experience as a Presbyterian. I know fellow Presbyterians, for example, whose dislike of other Presbyterian denominations is much stronger than their dislike of, say, Lutherans or Methodists. Why? Because we share a common history, because there was a time we chose to separate from each other, because we’ve fallen into caring more about the things over which we differ than the many, many things upon which we agree.

Perhaps your “Samaritans” aren’t religious groups, but cultural or political groups. No matter which side of the political spectrum you fall on, chances are you don’t have much love for folks on the other side. And, if you’re like millions of Americans, you despise those with whom you differ politically in much the ways Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Or, your “Samaritans” may be people of a different race or ethnicity. Or people from a different country. Or from a different generation. Or from a different economic class. Or whose lifestyle you disapprove of. Or who watch the news station you detest. Or . . . .

If you can identify your “Samaritans,” then you may try an experiment. Read Jesus’s story, replacing “But a Samaritan” in verse 33 with “But a ________.” Fill in the blank with whatever makes sense for you. Then, read about what your “Samaritan” did in Jesus’s story. How does this make you feel? What is stirring in you? What might God want to teach you through this thought experiment?

Reflect

Do you have any “Samaritans”? If so, why do you regard them negatively?

Why do you think Jesus chose a Samaritan, of all people, to be the “hero” of his story?

Act

Go ahead and do the exercise suggested in the last paragraph of the devotion.

Pray

Lord Jesus, I can only imagine how those who heard your story must have reacted: “A Samaritan! A Samaritan! Anything but a Samaritan! Jesus, you’ve got to be kidding.” Of course, I don’t have negative feelings toward people from Samaria, but there are certain kinds of people who just bug me. The things they do and say get under my skin. So do the things they watch and purchase. I can get bugged by their religious affiliations or complete lack thereof. And I can really get upset about the way they vote.

Lord, I confess that when I regard people as “Samaritans” I tend to discount them, to think of them as beyond your grace. I might pray for their repentance, but never for you to bless them. I know you tell me to love my enemies, but I’d really rather not, actually. And one way to avoid this commandment is to pretend as if I don’t have any enemies.

Lord, I know you’re not asking me to agree with all opinions, to pretend as if all ways of living and speaking are just fine. But you are asking me to love both my neighbors and my enemies. And you are inviting me to see the potential for you to do good in and through those I would discount. So help me, I pray, to be open to seeing people as you see them. 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


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One thought on “The Good “Bad Guy”

  1. Jonathan Russell says:

    Thanks for the devotional this morning, Mark. I’ve often wondered why the parable of the Good Samaritan, didn’t seem to answer directly the question, “who is my neighbor?” Instead Jesus changed the question to, “who ACTED like a neighbor?” The two questions seem different, as one focuses on the beloved and the other on the lover. In any event the point remains, “and if a Samaritan could love a Jew as his neighbor, then surely everyone is deserving of your love too.”

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