There goes Christ...

The other day I was walking out of the metro and I saw a homeless man, he was clearly drunk and talking to himself. And as I saw him and old saying that my mom had taught me years ago popped into my head:

“There, but by the grace of God go I.”

My mom had taught me this saying that we could never really think better of ourselves than others because really we are just like them. Without God’s grace and different circumstances and choices in our lives we might be in the exact place. But, I realized something as I thought about this saying. It doesn’t really teach what it’s intending to teach. It’s suppose to show us that we can’t look down on other people or judge them and we should instead be thankful that by God’s grace we aren’t in the situation that they are in. It’s supposed to show us our commonality as human brothers and sisters.

But, think about this saying for a moment, “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” As I thought about it I realized that it doesn’t minimize pride it magnifies it. It focuses not on our commonalities with our brothers and sisters who suffer, but on our differences. Yes, we recognize that they are in some ways like us but in the same breath we recognize that by God’s grace we aren’t them and we have it better than they do. Yes, we say it is by God’s grace that we have it different, but doesn’t that imply that God’s grace doesn’t also extend to the needy brother that we pass by? And really don’t we sort of think that yes it’s by God’s grace, but God’s grace is extended to me because well, I’m better – I didn’t make the mistakes that person made, I haven’t sinned like that person has, etc.

As I thought about this more I could see how some could say this saying in a way that had much more in common with Pharisee in Luke 18 than with genuine humility and thankfulness.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

“There, but by the grace of God, go I.” Doesn’t connect people. It divides them. Even though it seems to acknowledge our similarities it says that by the grace of God that person is less than me and thanks God that I am not like him. Maybe instead of saying “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” We should say simply “There go I.” And remember that the needy brother or sister at our side is no different than us and we are no different than them. Or maybe instead we should say, “There goes Christ.” Remembering that whatever we do to the least of these we do unto Christ himself.

I think sometimes the place to start in changing our actions is changing our thought process and so I am trying to change the way I think and the language I use towards those who appear more needy than I appear to be.

Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany