There but by the grace of god go I! From youth on I was taught the valuable resource of this adage. Along with “Don’t pout or your face will stay that way!” and “When in doubt, punt!”, it is one of those select little phrases that are easy to remember because they imply so much and, with little effort, give so much relief. When something bad happened to someone or someone I knew faltered and fell flat on his face, I was always reminded not to be critical since that could be me sitting there in all that mess. I have always felt that this probably had been on the lips of the priest as he passed by the sight of that poor man beaten at the side of the road. He looked, saw the awful mess and then muttered, “Better pass by. By the grace of God that could have been me.” What a convenient catch all this simply little nine word phrase is. It is so universal in application and certainly far reaching in its ability to bring comfort in almost any sad and dangerous situation.
When I was a young man and just out of college I hung out with a bunch of friends who, like myself, enjoyed a great Friday night out. Since a number of us worked together at the same supermarket stocking groceries, we often got together after work for a beer and just shooting the breeze. All of us had hopped-up cars and girl stories to relate. And, for the most part, we all led pretty similar lives, entertaining similar habits, likes and dislikes. One of the guys in the group (we just called him Craze) however, had a tendency that none of us really shared. He liked to get smashed, really smashed on hard liquor. Friday nights for him was the time when he really let loose. A beer or two wasn’t good enough for him. He needed to really get loaded. It wasn’t unusual for one of my friends on a Friday night to invite us over to his house for a six pack and then we would hang around for a while. Larry would show up too. He’d start out with a beer and then disappear into the back seat of his car scrounging around through the pile of junk he kept there looking for that fifth of whiskey he always kept there. Shots and beer were his specialty. The problem was, Craze didn’t know when to stop. Usually he’d get pretty tanked and fall asleep. He wasn’t much of a menace or a bother, so we pretty much left him alone. Then one night Craze fell asleep at the wheel of his Mustang and wrapped himself around a tree. He survived, barely, --the Mustang didn’t. If one of us had been critical of his habit of drinking too much, Craze might not be walking with a limp today and someone might still be enjoying that classic car today.
Casting the first stone? Sure! All of us drank some, so we each felt “unqualified” to comment on someone else’s bad habits. We chose to walk on the other side of the road because, because “there by” it might have been us. Jesus, however, teaches us something very different. He told His disciples that it was right to “rebuke” a brother when they sinned as long as we forgave that sin. Therein lies the key to walking on the right side of the road. When we see someone buried in sin and headed the wrong way, it’s okay for us to apply valid criticism just as long as we check our own hearts before we speak. Are we sinners too? You bet! Could we be in that same terrible predicament some day? No doubt about it! Being critical is fine as long as we don’t go into it with an attitude. Simply, out of love and the willingness to forgive that sin, apply the criticism and then let the Holy Spirit do the rest. “There but by the grace of God go I?” Probably! That’s why it’s probably better to stop and help. Someday that could be us.
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