Discovery of a lifetime: God’s extravagant grace
In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace? Phillip Yancey tells about a vagrant who lived near Fulton’s Fish Market on Manhattan’s lower east side. The smell of fish was almost unbearable, and he hated the delivery trucks that noisily arrived before daylight.

But midtown got crowded, and the cops harassed him there. Down on the wharves, no one paid any attention to a grizzled man who kept strictly to himself and slept on a loading dock behind a Dumpster.

Early one morning when the truckers were slinging halibut and eel, yelling at each other in Italian, he roused from sleep and started poking through the Dumpsters behind the tourist restaurants. Such an early start insured good pickings: last night’s uneaten garlic bread, French fries, untouched ripe and green olives, celery and carrot sticks, and a big wedge of cheesecake.

He ate all he could hold and stuffed the rest into a brown paper bag. Then he put all the cans and bottles he could find in separate plastic bags and stashed them in his rusty shopping cart.

The morning sun, pale through the harbor fog, was finally making it over the buildings by the wharf when he saw a mayonnaise-smeared ticket from last week’s lottery half-buried in a pile of wilted lettuce. He almost ignored it but, out of force of habit he picked it up and jammed it in his pocket. He remembered that in the old days he used to buy a ticket every week, but never more than one.

It was past noon when suddenly he remembered the ticket stub. He located a newspaper and held the ticket up to the box to compare the numbers. Three numbers match, the fourth, the fifth—all seven! This can’t be true. Nothing like that ever happens to him. Bums don’t win the New York Lottery.

But it was true. Later that day, he squinted into the bright lights as television crews presented to the city and nation the latest winner, the unshaven, unkempt, baggy pants vagrant who would receive $243,000 per year for the next 20 years.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we are told that we stumble on the kingdom of God that way— the discovery of a lifetime. We fully expect there to be a catch somewhere. But there is no catch. No loophole to disqualify us from God’s love and extravagant grace.

Rev. Nichols is Minister Emeritus of First Christian Church, Temple where he was senior minister for 23 years.

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2010-09-02 digital edition

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