In his wonderful book on Grace, Max Lucado retells the story of Zacchaeus as only Max could. He calls the chapter “Unscrooged Hearts” and he says, “When grace happens, generosity happens. Unsquashable, eye-popping bigheartedness happens.” That certainly was true for Zacchaeus. When the grace of God touched his life, he told Jesus the he would give half of his wealth to the poor and to anyone whom he cheated, he would give them back four times as much. He did not do this to earn his salvation, rather he did this in response to the Salvation that had spent the night in his home. St Augustine said “For grace is not given because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.”
Immediately after this uplifting story Jesus tells the story of the wicked servant who buried his talent and only returned to the King what he was initially given. These bookend stories confront us with our own responses to the grace of God.
First we see that having no response is not an option. If the life of Christ has come to you then there must be some signs of life. This is the danger of the kind of easy believism that is prevalent in the Church today. In an effort to avoid salvation by works, people are told that all they need do is raise a hand or pray a prayer at a meeting and then are given assurance of their salvation. While I am not saying that such responses to God’s love could not lead to salvation, if that is the only thing that has happened in your life, then you would be justified in wondering if “Salvation has come to this home today” as Jesus declared of Zacchaeus. We are saved by grace alone, but the grace that saves is never alone. Good works flow naturally from the spring of salvation. Justification leads to sanctification.
Second, the wicked servant illustrates how easily we can take the grace of God for granted and what a disconnect results in our lives when we do. In this story we see what happens when we “bury” God’s grace. We can stand in church and sing Amazing Grace at the top of our lungs and right after church harbor resentment in our hearts by refusing to give grace to others. But the one that we need to forgive does not deserve our forgiveness. Ah, but neither did we. But what if the one that we forgive does not appreciate it, or worse yet, abuse our forgiveness and use it as an excuse for more wrongdoing? That possibility did not stop the Father from sending His Son to a race of God haters. As Max Lucado put it, “He dispenses his goodness not with an eyedropper but with a fire hydrant.” So as his children we need to exchange our eyedroppers for a fire hoses. Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt 10:8).
Third, grace is not to be confused with a blanket dispensation or universal salvation. Those who “bury” God’s grace and those who reject God’s grace will face judgment. The servant who buried the talent had it taken away from him and given to another. And for the enemies of the King, the King said, “Bring them in and execute them here in front of me” (Luke 19:27). These shocking words from the lips of Jesus, even taking into account that He is telling a parable, should give us pause. The modern Church has turned Jesus into such a friend and buddy that we have lost a holy fear of Him who will return to judge the quick and the dead. Even clergy who call themselves “evangelical” have concluded, contrary to the very teachings of Jesus, that everyone will be saved and hell will be empty. While that is a wonderful thought, it cannot be supported from what Jesus taught. The days that Paul prophesied, when the Church would no longer endure sound doctrine but would gather teachers to tickle our ears, those days are among us (2 Tim 4:3). Jesus speaks the truth in love and when out of love He gives us such warnings, we should accept His love and heed Him.
The simple conclusion from these two stories is that as recipients of grace we are to become ambassadors of grace. The good news is that we don’t have to do this alone. In fact we can’t do it alone because to be a servant you need someone to serve. It is through the Church, His Body, that we “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24). It is as His Church that we let our lights shine and as we do this the Church becomes a fire hydrant of God’s grace.