Give and Take with Gifts and Tackles

The Bible in the News

Leonard Greenspoon

Leonard J. Greenspoon.

The Book of Acts (20:35) preserves this saying from Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In slightly revised form (“It is better …”), this phrase is widespread throughout the world. As reported in the popular press, this is indeed a worthwhile sentiment—although not always in the sense we might expect.

In an extended interview in The Guardian of London, well-known writer Jonathan Safran Foer gives voice to some of the ambiguities that arise in appropriating this expression. When asked, “Is it better to give or to receive?” he responded: “Depends. A punch? A Fabergé egg?”

I must admit that I had never before considered the matter from this perspective. Former rugby coach for Samoa’s World Cup team Michael Jones “was once asked how a Christian could be such an uncompromising tackler. In reply, he quoted from the Bible, saying: ‘It’s better to give them than to receive’” (The Western Mail).

Another rugby star, Bakkies Botha, reportedly observed that giving and receiving (tackles) are often part of the same extended process. This is not limited to sports. Thus, in reporting on Houston Restaurant Weeks, which benefits the charity Houston Food Bank, The New York Times records: “Originally just one week, the culinary event has grown to a full month, and last year it raised more than a half-million dollars. The adage goes it’s better to give than to receive, but what’s even better is to give and receive.”

But what about more conventional gift giving, whether Foer’s Fabergé egg or something slightly less exotic? Alas, even here great care must be exercised—or at least that’s what we learn from the purveyors of popular culture who inhabit the pages of newspapers worldwide.

First of all, a columnist for The Express explains (in the words of his feature’s title) “Why I’d Like to Break Up with Valentine’s Day Once and For All.” A portion of his extended lament goes likes this: “Whoever said it is better to give than receive obviously never suffered the indignity of an unrequited Valentine’s Day card.” Now I wouldn’t want even to hazard a guess about Jesus’ experiences in this regard, but I’m pretty confident that Solomon, as a teenager and as an adult, never had to worry about any lack of romantic missives from women, young and old!

And apparently “Going out of your way to help others can seriously damage your health” (as we learn from London’s Daily Mail ). What? “Most of us are taught from an early age that it is better to give than to receive, that it’s nice to be nice. And it is. But, according to a new book, an increasing number of people are taking the concept of niceness to such a degree that it is no longer a benign, admirable character trait. Instead, it is a pathological condition—known by the professionals as ‘caretaker personality disorder,’ or the ‘disease to please’—with dire consequences. ‘Extreme selflessness is a character trait that can be used to mask a variety of psychological and emotional problems.’”

This is really too much. At least we can turn to a succinct piece of advice offered by the Bible’s über-giver (and receiver), King Solomon: “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act” (Proverbs 3:27).

Based on Leonard J. Greenspoon, The Bible in the News, “Give and Take with Gifts and TacklesBiblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2012.

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