Updated: Aug 14
From his fulness we have all received grace upon grace. —John 1:16
That Bible verse tends to be read individualistically. And why not? There’s an ocean of assurance in knowing that for every time I mess up, God extends a hand of forgiveness to me saying, “The slate is wiped clean. You’re good. Now, get up and move forward.”
But what if the steady power in that verse is just as much in the “grace upon grace” as it is in who receives that limitless goodness: “we.” We have all received one gracious blessing after another, as the New Living Translation puts it. We are, all of us, the recipients of something better than the warmest hug from a consoling parent on our worst days. So, if all of us are pulled close and held together under the Mother Hen’s wing, shouldn’t we understand grace as something to be communally shared, not just individually appreciated?
A church member once old me, “I’m not angry with you anymore.” I didn’t know what to say to that, because I had no idea this person was upset with me in the first place, let alone why. So, I just looked back at them, nodded, and said, “Okay;” because that’s what it was: okay. The person who had taken issue with me tended to give me a cold shoulder, but I did not dwell on their prickly disposition. Instead, I tried to focus on what was beneath that guarded exterior: a painful past, a peculiar personality in a conformist world of minimal understanding coupled with thin patience, and a desire to be understood, to belong, and to be loved. Maybe it was the razor focus on their full personhood that kept me from wondering why they were angry with me and how I could do better to please them, and how my pleasing them might finally make them happy with me, with others, with themself. Sounds like nonsense, right?
The trick is that we are led to believe that grace is nonsense, and that extending it to others, as it has been and eternally is extended to us, is even more nonsensical, when the truth is it’s actually the other way around. Focusing on others’ seemingly resentful opinions of us and thinking that we can do something to cure their resentment; focusing on the transgressions we have committed against others so intently that we define ourselves by those transgressions and become ourselves resentful; focusing on the surface level distrust people have of those in our own community to the detriment of us really seeing one another—that’s the nonsense dragging us all down. Meanwhile, grace is true. Grace is good. Grace is ours.
Not only did I not ever know why the church member was upset with me, I still don’t know what I did, if anything, to finally relieve their anger. I wonder if it was even me or anything I did that changed things for them. Regardless, I am convinced that I alone could not have shifted their mindset from anger to peace. It was the community in which they and I both were immersed that settled things for them. It was a sea of people focusing on grace in the midst of a world hellbent on retribution that turned the tide for someone who, above all else, needed to be understood, to belong, to be loved. Doesn’t each of us need that? All of us who are made in God’s image and held together in the shelter of Her wing, don’t we all need that?
Good and gracious God, thank you for the fulness of your grace. In response to what I cannot, should not, and need not measure, I pray that I might be able to extend that same immeasurable goodness to others. Help me to be a gentle wave in your ocean of justice, mercy, and love, inviting anyone and everyone around me to jump in and be a part of that limitless body of blessings that keeps no record of wrongs and delights in the truth. Amen.