What’s wrong with nice people?

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” – Parable of the Good Samaritan

I cringe every time I hear it, but I hear it said from time to time whenever I’m with Christians who are trying to distinguish their place in this world. “We don’t want to be just ‘do-gooders'”, often this is said with an incredulous tone, “We want to truly live for God.”  Christian speakers sometimes use it to scold their audiences. “What makes you different from your neighbors? What makes you different from merely nice people doing nice things in the community?” I always want to ask, “What in the world is wrong with doing good? Are we against nice people doing nice things?”

I understand the intent of these statements, but far too often Christians feel a need to distinguish themselves by way of contrast with others – an “us versus them” way of talking – an alienation of the other. This is understandable when trying to draw a distinction against a way of being that is destructive and evil; but, do we really want to draw a negative contrast against people who are contributing well to our world, (perhaps even seeking justice and showing mercy better than many “Christians”), but don’t share our faith commitments?

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus makes the hero of the story the one who was outside the faith. The Samaritan was one who’s lifestyle and faith commitments didn’t match up at all to the faith community Jesus was addressing. Brilliantly, Jesus turned the tables on the religious leader who questioned his orthodoxy to unwittingly have to reply that it was the Samaritan – the “compromiser”- the one outside his faith – the other, that exhibited the mercy and love that God would be pleased with. It was the Samaritan not the “faithful” who advanced the kingdom of God in this story.

I for one am very thankful that God is at work beyond the obedience of the church. Christians can and should learn from those within our communities who are nice people living nice lives. We can and should admire those doing good no matter there creeds or commitments. If we want to follow Jesus then we will work together and integrate with those who don’t in seeking the common good of our communities and justice in our world.

Christianity that can’t learn from, cheer on and work together with others who may not share our faith commitments but do express love, justice and mercy, is a Christianity that is missing the mark according to Jesus. Our faith’s purpose is to see tangible expressions of the kingdom take root in our world. We are to be about setting things right in this world. Why not point out what’s right about what others are doing and using that as a point of engagement with them rather than feeling a need to distance ourselves from them? Would not the former be a more powerful witness in our world? We should applaud those who don’t share our faith but are doing good and follow their example. “Go and do likewise.”

This post will be a no-brainer to some and perhaps a challenge to others, but the idea of Christians working with others toward the common good, being creators rather than critics, and avoiding a subculture mentality is apparently what Gabe Lyon’s soon to be released book,  The Next Christians-The Good News about the End of Christian America – How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith anticipates for present day Christianity (see this review here). It may very well be worth your time. If you read it, let me know what you think.

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