The Liberating Impossibility Of Repayment
On an episode of the second season of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) discovers that Penny (Kaley Cuoco) has gotten him a Christmas present. Angered, he reminds Penny that the “foundation of gift giving is reciprocity,” and that she hasn’t given him a gift, she’s given him “an obligation.” He says that he now has to go out and purchase for her “a gift of commensurate value and representing the same perceived level of friendship” as that represented by the gift she’s given him.
His solution is to buy three gift baskets (of various sizes) of bath products. His plan is to see what her gift to him is, excuse himself from the room, give her the appropriate gift basket and return the other two baskets to the store. What happens, though, is that Penny has gotten Sheldon a napkin that Leonard Nimoy has used and autographed. Sheldon notes that he now not only has Nimoy’s signature, he has his DNA.
After excusing himself, Sheldon returns with all three gift baskets…barely able to carry the weight. “I know, I know…” he wails. “It’s not enough!”
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? We don’t know how to react when we get really good gifts. When the gift is that good, no response is good enough. Certainly a plain “thank you” won’t cut it. There is no bath product cornucopia that can balance the scales when Leonard Nimoy’s DNA is on the other side, and there doesn’t seem to be an adequate response when Jesus’ death for our sins holds that place, either.
Many of us Christians spend our lives trying to “reciprocate” for Jesus’ gift–to adequately say “thank you.” But if we turn a big enough gift into an obligation, we are crushed by it.
Let’s acknowledge from the beginning, then, that this is a gift that tips the scales forever. Let’s treat the gift like a child would, with excitement and joy, and go play, remembering that even our most heart-felt gratitude (which is a good thing!) is not commensurate with his life-giving gift–liberating us from the impossible burden of “repayment.”