If I could tell when the end times were on their way by the number of wars, famines, earthquakes and plagues that are afflicting our world, I’d say, “Wow! Here they come!” The Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America—you name it, atrocities are taking place. Even in the United States of America, the home of the free, the hope of the huddled masses, the place where no one really has to go hungry, human-caused disaster is everywhere.
I would just as soon skip the first part of this Gospel reading. The Sadducees are trying to trick Jesus by getting him to respond to an impossible question about the resurrection. According to the law, if one of two brothers dies before his wife has children, then his brother marries her. But what if there are seven brothers, and each marries the woman in turn? To whom will she belong at the resurrection?
The first time I heard the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector was as a small child attending vacation Bible school at Pond Fork Baptist Church. I remember the end of the little curtained balcony where our class was held, sunlight coming into our room rejoicing through a dusty window, the buzzing of insects in the July fields outside, a flannel board with figures stuck on it, and best of all, the anticipation of a story, followed by Kool-Aid and cookies.
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.