Those free tastings at the yogurt place are paid for by the store (and must be made up in the price of their product). Free admission to the art gallery and well-kept parks are paid for by taxes from the hard-working folks in the city and province (who incidentally get no say in how high their taxes are or exactly where the monies go). Free wifi is paid for by the subscriber who is generous enough to share their access. Free rent just means that someone else is paying the mortgage. A free ride means that the driver (or his company) is the one paying for the gas and vehicle maintenance. Free healthcare just means that our taxes are much higher, the companies we work for have to contribute their share, and everyone's pay cheques are a bit lower. Free (for me) really means that I have escaped having to pay for something that has a real cost; I have made someone else responsible for it. And if I am always looking for free stuff and never willing to be the one paying for it...well, that's a problem. No healthy community or city or world can operate that way.
I am not trying to take the fun out of getting free stuff. Yes, gifts are meant to be given and received with joy, but it is naive and ignorant of me not to recognise that what is free for me is costing someone else something. I find that I appreciate "free stuff" more when I am aware of the cost involved for others. I become more grateful and less likely to overindulge or engage in a "free feeding frenzy."
Other things freely offered to us have significant cost, too. When someone invites me into their home, they are trusting me with their largest investment (and usually taking responsibility for refreshments and cleaning). When someone forgives a debt or a wrong, they have taken on the cost of my mistake. When someone loves me, they give me their time, they share their resources, they show me themselves.
I enjoy a lot of "free stuff" in my life. May I never take the cost for granted.
We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him. (Romans 5, The Message)
You have received freely, so freely give. (Matthew 10:8)
The photo: piano in a bistro in old Montreal. There was a basket for donations on the windowsill.