In case any of you worry that I don’t have anyone looking out for me in Boston, you should know that last night my landlady knocked on my door around 6pm holding two boxes. She told me she had gone through her jewelry and found a few things she never wore and wanted to give them to me because she felt bad about the burglary and wanted to help me start refilling my jewelry box. A coworker of mine had also gotten me a few bracelets when she heard that mine had been taken.
I envy those people who can just accept gifts without a second thought. I think for most of us (and especially for the particularly neurotic, like myself) there’s always that tiny feeling of unworthiness, even guilt, that someone should think of you and offer you something you haven’t earned.
Her visit last night reminded me of a gift she gave me when I first moved in. I had made the mistake of moving while I was in the middle of a two-week intensive summer course on The Church of the Poor with none other than Gustavo Gutierrez (SQUEE!). When she came down with a gift for me while I was writing my final paper in my haphazardly decorated new kitchen, it made such an impact on me that I included the incident in my paper. This is what I wrote at the time:
Related to our need to be open to receiving God’s assistance is our need to accept God’s gratuitous gift. Discussing the preferential option for the poor and spiritual poverty, Gutiérrez states “God first loved us. Our lives should respond to this gratuitous initiative of God” (EW 146). God loves us – and all humans – because God is good, not because we are good.
To accept gifts freely can be a challenge. As I was writing this, my landlady unexpectedly knocked on my door. I opened the door to find her bearing two sets of curtains. She told me her daughter had left them with her, they matched my kitchen, I had two kitchen windows, and I didn’t have curtains yet, so she was giving them to me. Her action was so unexpected that my thank-yous felt inadequate, and I shut the door unsettled. If it is difficult to accept free curtains, no wonder it is a challenge to accept divine love and the gift of eternal life.
But I don’t physically need curtains any more than poor Andean girls need dolls, or an adolescent Gustavo needed ice cream, or Jesus needed three hundred denarii of oil poured on his head. Yet in the Markan account of Jesus anointing by an anonymous woman (Mk 14: 3-9) Jesus chastises those who would criticize her gratuitous act. In fact, he links the proclamation of the gospel with her act.
To receive God’s love gratuitously and to know that love is not conditional upon our striving, is an act of submission, of giving up control. We find validation of this acceptance in the pericope of Jesus’ anointing, and also in the story of Creation. According to Gutiérrez, we were made in gratuity, and “to be loved gratuitously is the greatest human aspiration”.
Forgive this soprano’s detour into her other life of preaching and pontificating. Can’t hurt to be reminded of the free gift of love once in a while, though.