The goodness of God is woven into the pages of Scripture from creation to Revelation, often in surprising places. Jesus spent His life revealing the glory of God and shattering some of the most common perceptions in the hearts of His people. He redefined goodness in unexpected ways and in the least likely people.
The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37 is a familiar tale of the victim of robbery and assault, illustrating the definition of who is our neighbor. Upon seeing an injured man on the side of the road, both a priest and a Levite (a temple assistant) ignored the suffering. But a man from Samaria took action to care for the man in need. The lesson here is clearly to help when someone is hurt, but there’s another cultural detail that our modern minds might overlook. Samaritans were not respected in ancient Jewish culture. They were different because they had both Jewish and Gentile heritage. Some sources describe them as being despised. Yet, Jesus uses a Samaritan man as an example and calls him good.
Tax collectors were also unpopular, thanks to their practice of taking people’s money and cheating them out of more than they were due. Their shady business practices severely lacked character and integrity while leaving people short-changed. Yet, Jesus tells a story in Luke 18:9-14 that flips the script on popular opinion. A Pharisee (devoutly Jewish) and a tax collector both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee’s prayer gave God a report of his own good deeds, just short of giving himself a righteous gold star. The tax collector, on the other hand, mourned his sinfulness and asked for mercy. Jesus said that it was the tax collector who was justified before God, making a positive example out of someone considered lowly.
Then Jesus got personal. In John 10:11-18, He describes Himself as the good shepherd. We can easily get on board with His description of a nurturer, thankful that God protects us- His sheep- and that we know His voice. These verses conjure images of Christ with long wavy hair, a staff in one hand and lamb in the other, clothed in flowing white robes. But in reality, shepherds were not a glowing vision. Their robes were full of dirt and sweat. They lived on the outskirts of society with their flocks- and smelled like them, too. Manners and propriety likely faded away the longer they abided in the fields. It’s no wonder that civilized people looked down upon shepherds. Yet, here Jesus was saying that He was one of them, and that He was good.
There are “others” in our lives today. We have a tendency to categorize people and sort out who is like us and who is different. Then we assign value based on economics, race, political opinions, and our judgment of their decisions. What would modern parables tell us? Who else would Jesus call good today that would make us pause or gasp in surprise- or outrage?
However, as centuries have passed, we haven’t learned from our biblical brothers and sisters. We haven’t yet seen people with God’s perspective. First, He created humanity in His own image. Though there are many ideas of what this means, we know for sure that there’s a reflection of our Creator in every single human being ever born. Psalm 139:14 says we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Luke 19:10 tells us that Christ came to seek and save the lost. And, of course, John 3:16 declares that God loved the entire world so much that He sent and sacrificed His Son to redeem all of His children.
How, then, can we look upon God’s beloved and decide that they aren’t good? How can we measure our neighbor by their identity or choices? The Samaritan was good. The tax collector was justified. God loves each person and commands us to do the same. Who knows? We could be “the other” to our neighbor, also in need of freedom from judgment and an outpouring of love instead.
God works all things together for good for those He loves and calls according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Those we’ve called “bad” become good in His hands. He humbled Himself and identified with those society deemed less-than. Let’s work on defining goodness by the Lord’s standards. I bet we’ll find transformation in our own hearts in the process.