10 July 2008

Free with Purchase

14th Week OT (R): Hosea 11.1-4, 8-9 and Matthew10.7-15
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

Though I have been an English teacher now for some twenty-two years, I’m not one of those fussy grammarian types who go around correcting “who” for “whom,” nor do I wag my finger at the barbarians who have killed the subjunctive mood of our verbs: “If I were going” not “If I was going…” Maybe I don’t do this sort of thing b/c I am a bad grammarian; regardless, there are two occasions when I get my school-marm bun in a twist. Go to WalMart or Kroger. Find the express lane. Does the sign indicating the express lane read, “Ten items or less” or “Ten items or fewer”? If the sign reads “less,” find the manager and make him write 500 times, “Less in amount, fewer in number.” Apparently, in Wally’s World, less is less prim and proper than fewer. The other annoying grammatical gremlin is the “free gift” offered with purchase. First, if it is truly a gift it is free by definition, so the adjective “free” in “free gift” is redundant. Second, if you have to purchase something to get the free gift, it is not a gift but a bribe. Marketers aren’t stupid; I mean, they aren’t uneducated in the ways that people respond to language, so why do you think that they make this mistake over and over again in their advertising? If “ten items or fewer” sounds prissy to the average American and so the signs read “ten items or less,” then “gifts” must be labeled “free” b/c how many of us really believe that anything anymore comes to us freely?

That question leads us to this one: why would anyone upon hearing the proclamation of the coming of God’s kingdom and the gracious wish of peace upon one’s household, refuse to receive that word and the wish of peace by listening? Jesus tells the disciples that they are to proclaim the kingdom in whatever town or village they find themselves in. Upon entering the house of their host, “wish [the household] peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace be upon it…” If the house is not worthy, Jesus tells his friends, “let your peace return to you…go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” In other words, let nothing of their disobedience stay with you. They have refused the gift of peace that comes from hearing and doing—that is, listening—to the Word of God. Why would anyone refuse to listen?

Before instructing his friends on how to go out and proclaim the kingdom, Jesus reminds them, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” How many of those who hear the disciples proclaim the kingdom truly believe that the message is a “free gift”? The cynics will say, “Yea, free, suuure.” The pessimists will say, “Who needs a gift that promises to kill us?” The optimists will say, “I’m happy now; besides happiness can’t be given?” And the truly world-wise will say, “What do I have to buy to get this allegedly ‘free gift’”? Like the modern consumer, these folks do not believe anything is truly free. If they cannot believe that the proclamation of the gospel message is a gift, then how will they ever come to believe that something as infinitely valuable as their rescue from sin and death is a “free gift” from God?

We have to wonder even now if we, the teachers and preachers of that freely given gospel, perpetuate the prejudice against the gospel being truly free. Jesus tries to help us now by telling his friends then not to preach with silver or gold or copper rattling around in our pockets; to go out preaching without a sack for the journey or a change of clothes or an extra pair of shoes. In other words, when we go out proclaiming the kingdom we are to appear as though the message we preach is free. So, the better question here might be: do those who refuse to listen to the freely given message of salvation through Christ see us as messengers who really believe that the message we bring is free? If the medium is the message, then we must look like the gospel we proclaim. Otherwise, those who hear but do not listen can say, “Looks like an expensive Way to go to me.”

This psalmist this morning prays, “Let us see your face, Lord, and will shall be saved.” Looking at His preachers, how much do you reckon folks think they will have to pay just to glimpse His face? What is the price of salvation if we who believe live as if there is a price for all to pay?


  1. patty m.11:57 AM

    Speaking of free gifts... I hope you continue posting when you are in Europe. Your homilies "unpack" the Word beautifully.