In the airport, I’m wandering around the shops until it’s time to go to my gate. Usually window-shopping in South Asia, where store owners can be pushy, I’m enjoying the discreet American salespeople who watch me drift through their stores. Without anyone to keep me company, I almost wish one of them would strike up a conversation – or at least offer to make me a deal on the much-too-expensive earrings. Suddenly I spot a favorite coffee shop chain and smile at the thought of befriending an iced chai.
I head towards its lighted sign, when I become aware of marimbas overpowering the audio book playing through my mp3 ear buds. A shop has set up a deejay booth and decorated with bright colors. Three people are standing in the middle of the walkway, offering a single-serving plastic container of hummus along with a generous amount of crackers from their store. People in front of me are ducking past them – some nearly break into a jog to skirt around the free samples. Those who are forced to respond verbally choke it out while looking in the opposite direction. Do all of these people hate hummus that much?
I love hummus – but can’t bring myself to make eye contact with the hummus people. Does everyone else in front of me know something I don’t? Maybe the hummus people will make me stop and give my email address. Then I’ll be subjected to ten email offers a day for the rest of my life. Maybe you have to buy something. Like everyone else in front of me, I scurry by – searching frantically for nothing in my purse until I can safely duck into my coffee shop.
In line, I turn to watch one of the hummus ladies. She’s just handed a smiling couple their free, no-strings-attached 4 ½ ounces of goodness. What? I think. They didn’t have to agree to endless promotional emails? No two-hour sales pitches? No selling of their souls? There that hummus lady goes again – cheerfully handing out two more containers of hummus like it’s free or something.
Suddenly I feel very foolish. Following the example of the people in front of me, I passed up an opportunity to have a free snack in this overpriced airport. I’m sorry I ignored the smiling hummus guy with his arm outstretched just to give away something good.
You and I both doubt the store was giving away hummus from the goodness of their own hearts. They’re probably hoping we’ll like it so much, we’ll come back to buy more later. Isn’t that sad? We’re so conditioned to believe that nothing good is ever given away completely free – in actuality or in motive.
That must be why I have such trouble with Paul’s statements in Romans 5:15-17; 6:23. A free gift from God? Really? No sales pitches? No hidden motives? No email promotions? Something as good as freedom and eternal life can’t come free, can it? No one gives that away. But that’s what Paul says. A free gift. It’s one you don’t have to (and can’t) earn. God really does give it away from the goodness of His own heart. Too often we duck by this truth –heads buried in distractions – into places selling a “different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). One that tells us we have to somehow earn the gift of righteousness – either to get it or to keep it. We are all too ready to believe that sales pitch because it’s one that’s familiar. It’s what our culture has taught us.
After I’d walked the length of the airport beyond the hummus people – I retraced my steps. The smiling hummus man was handing out the last of the packages from the last box. My head up, smiling, I made eye contact with him. He smiled back and handed me my free hummus. That was all. I walked on, undisturbed, swaying happily to the marimba music.
Our culture trains us to distrust a free offer. But the free gift of eternal life and life in Christ’s freedom is one offer we can’t afford to ignore. Let’s remind each other not to walk by this free gift with our heads buried in our luggage, okay?