David: A Christmas Story

For a while back, Union Church of Manila had this yearly practice of giving gifts to urban poor pastors during Christmas season; they could be books or bags of groceries. Being involved both in UCM and Penuel School of Theology (which trained pastors from the urban poor), I was usually asked to provide 10 names of would-be beneficiaries. I never made any criteria to determine who got to be on my list, everyone in Penuel was basically from urban poor communities, and since the turn-over of students was often brisk, it was easy to come up with 10 different names. I was never strict about it, there must have been more than one occasion where a student got on the list twice. This story has to do with one "two-timer".

I was given a heads-up and so I wrote my list. The practice was, Union Church would send the gifts to Penuel and we distributed the gifts to those on the list.  So the gifts arrived: except there were 20 of them. Quickly looking at the cover letters—two of them—I would find out that besides the Mission and Benevolence Committee who took charge of this annual giving; another committee managing a surplus in UCM's budget gave out gifts to another ten pastors as well. It seems the other committee used last year’s list. Good—20 happy pastors this Christmas! No, wait…19 happy pastors and one of them would be very very happy. It seems that one person, a young man named David, was on both list.

Someone in the staff pointed this out and suggested that maybe we give the other gift to someone else that was not in either list. A name was suggested—complete with pathos pointing out his dire poverty and what would be an unhappy Christmas for his family. We all agreed but only after we informed Union Church about the switch—which we feel they would definitely understand and agree to. The way the excitement buzzed in that office gave me the impression that things were clear. I could and should have picked up the phone and contacted UCM regarding the dilemma but I decided it could wait. I stepped out and headed for the library down the hall.

Out on the hallway, I met David who was headed for the office. We exchanged the Filipino greeting of a knowing nod and raising of eyebrows as we walked past each other. As he walked into the office, a bad feeling came to me. I quickly ran back to the office and there, David was sitting and one of the staff members was explaining to him that he received two gifts by mistake and there is this other guy who was so poor we decided to give him the other gift instead.

“Nooooooooo!” I screamed.

David was not supposed to know that and we were not to do anything until Union Church consented to the switch. So after the apologies and the awkward “I thought,” “he thought” and “she thought” dialogue subsided, we sort of looked at each other perplexed as what to do next. All eyes turned to me as I pondered, bit my tongue, pursed my lips, and bit my tongue again; then with the burden of King Solomon offering to slice a baby in two, I simply said that David will have both gifts.

“What?!!” was the instant violent reaction. “What about this other guy who is so poor and so on and so forth?”

“Well so is David and it’s not his fault this other guy is poor; moreover neither is it his fault that he gets two gifts!” I firmly replied.

“Of course David would be willing to share his gifts,” someone added with a sing-song voice.

I replied and summarized things with this: “No, David receives those two gifts by grace and by grace he can run away and freely do anything with them. Those are his and he should not feel or be made to feel guilty about being doubly blessed—even if it was a mistake because he is not to bear the burden of that mistake either. If he decides to be selfish or to share, I would not want to know. David lives by grace and freedom and that is the basis by which he can decide.”

Turning to David; “Now take those gifts, get out of here before we change my minds.  And, oh, one more thing, Merry Christmas.”