As a lectionary preacher, I’ve journeyed through the Gospel of Luke for
over 25 years. But this year I noticed something new. Luke places the
story of two rich folks in close textual proximity; in chapter 18, a
rich official remains nameless; in chapter 19, we meet a chief tax
collector named Zacchaeus. And in between?
Not long ago the local newspaper carried a story about a young couple traveling to visit relatives in a neighboring state. Having parked along the side of the road so the woman could nurse their baby, the man stretched his legs and admired the view of the river and a nearby bridge. Within minutes a state patrol car stopped to check out the scene.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us that grace is free but not cheap, gratis but not banal, gratuitous but not superfluous. The reformers of the 16th century defined the cost of grace by a single word: repentance. Repentance comes about when “terror strikes the conscience” (Melanchthon).
I knew the tale of Zacchaeus as we’ve all heard it—a short bad man climbs a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus—until I heard Charlie Cook preach on it one Sunday in the mid-’70s. Charlie was a short good man, and one of the most extraordinary pastors I have ever known.