02 2015
The Gift Certificate Which Never Expires

At the recent Liberate Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, The Rev. John Zahl told a true story which illustrates the truth of God’s grace. When he told it, there emerged an audible sigh from the audience. Here it is as quoted from the Mockingbird blog. www.mbird.com.

A few years ago, just before Christmas, I received a very generous gift certificate to a local, high-end department store. The man who gave it to me was a member of my congregation and also the owner of the store.
About two weeks after I received it, I went into his store to make use of it. He met me at the entrance. I proceeded to select a lovely sports coat, one which I could wear in both professional and social settings, plus a nice dress shirt and some fancy loafers. I made sure to look at each of the price tags (on the sly) as he showed me different items that he thought would suit me well. In my head, I spent much of the time doing some calculations. My plan was to overshoot the gift certificate enough to be able to then put a bit of cash back into the store’s register, thereby showing my gratitude for the generosity I had been shown and also displaying my support for his shop.
When I got to the register, he proceeded to tally up the total. I put my wallet on the counter and got my card out of my wallet. But as he turned to face me, he placed the gift-certificate down in front of me, and said, “It looks like you’ve only spent a little more than half of your credit with us.” I was mortified. In that moment I realized that he had only been charging me half of the ticket price. It meant that I was still in his debt, and the feeling accompanying this realization was quite uncomfortable.

I knew what had to be done and explained the entire situation to Deirdre upon my return home. She agreed to accompany me back to the store in a few weeks’ time, where she would “help” me spend the rest of the credit by finding some new clothes for herself. We agreed that we would spend well over the remaining amount, in a further attempt to show our appreciation.
So we did just that. After a little shopping, we approached the counter as a unified front, and with a veritable armload of wears we wished to acquire. I handed our friend the gift certificate. He took the gift certificate in hand and then began entering the purchases into the register, bagging them up one by one as he went along.
Finally, when the bags were full, and everything had been rung up, he turned to us with a look of seeming amazement on his face. “You’re not going to believe this,” He said, “but I’ve rung everything up, and the total comes to exactly zero.” We were horrified, and protested a bit. “That can’t be right. The total should be well above what was left of our store credit, etc…”
Then he got serious, and he said, “I don’t think you understand how this gift certificate works. No matter what you throw at it, the total will always continue to come up reading zero.” It was the first moment we understood the nature of the situation, which, for us, had to be spelled out. In our attempts to buy our way out of the debt, we had completely missed out on seeing the value of the credit, of the gift, which this generous man took such pleasure in bestowing upon us. There were no words.