There’s a well-known phrase we often hear that goes: “There but by the grace of God go I.” After a bit of internet sleuthing, I found that it is most commonly attributed to John Bradford who was in jail for being a Protestant in the mid 1500′s. This remark was made as he saw criminals being led toward their execution, a fate he would later share. Before later being burned at the stake as a heretic for his beliefs, it’s said he “begged forgiveness of any he had wronged, and offered forgiveness to those who had wronged him.”
Sometimes the phrase is used when looking down on someone else, and being thankful that God has not allowed you to come to the same fate. (Think of someone potentially saying this while walking by a mentally ill homeless person who smells bad and is talking to themselves.) Something roughly translated to a more literal “Thank God that’s not me.” However, we can challenge ourselves to not think that way, but rather to see ourselves as easily being in the same position as others, if circumstances were different.
In Mark 12:28-34 Jesus is asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” and Jesus replies:
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Perhaps the first step in attempting to love your neighbor as you love yourself, is to see yourself in your neighbor. Considering this, we can approach the “There but by the grace of God go I” as a challenge to see ourselves in our neighbors, and love the “us” we see in them, as we love ourselves.
And before we limit ourselves in thinking of who our “neighbors” are, we have no further to look than Luke 10:25-37 where Jesus uses the least likely person the “expert in the law” would think of as his neighbor – a Samaritan, which as we know, were not the Jew’s favorite group of people.
So when we go about our week, attempting to see ourselves in our neighbors, let us look at those neighbors who we have the hardest time with. Those with whom we disagree strongly, or with whom we have cultural differences, or those who have disabilities, or those who have made life-altering mistakes. You know…THOSE people. THAT group.
Jesus made it clear enough. This command is right at the top of the things Jesus expects from us. Let’s take this week to do our best to see ourselves in others, thinking kindly “There but by the grace of God go I”, and then to love them as we love ourselves because we actually see ourselves in them.