Some days, I find it difficult to get my head around anything much at all. A flashback on Facebook to a post some 8 years ago when I was apparently in Koln while my suitcase was in Hamburg is a mystery to me. I have zero recollection of it. It’s not the only mystery I’ve faced recently.
Thoroughly confused by the meaning of Luke 16:1-8, I took to the Internet to try to figure it out. In this gospel verse, Luke seems to be telling us that God is quite okay with us being on the fiddle. A rich man fires his steward for doing stuff he shouldn’t have been doing. The steward, appalled at the idea of having to beg for a living and not strong enough to dig ditches, decides that he’d best get people on his side. Before he leaves, he calls in his boss’s debtors and gets them each to rewrite what they owe, reducing their debt substantially. All this in an effort to curry favour in the hope that when they find out he’s jobless, they’ll help him out. Far from ethical, I thought to myself, waiting for the punch line.
“And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.
For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than the children of light.”
Surely this couldn’t be, right? Is God okay with yer man’s dishonesty? Or is he praising his clear-sighted preparation for the future?
When searching for an interpretation of what this could mean, I came across a reference to the Filipino concept of utang na loob:
The essence of utang na loob is an obligation to appropriately repay a person who has done one a favour. The favours which elicit the Filipino’s sense of utang na loob are typically those whose value is impossible to quantify, or, if there is a quantifiable value involved, involves a deeply personal internal dimension. This internal dimension, loob, differentiates utang na loob from an ordinary utang (debt); being an internal phenomenon, utang na loob thus goes much deeper than ordinary debt or even the western concept of owing a favour. Filipino psychology explains that this is a reflection of the kapwa orientation of shared personhood or shared self, which is at the core of the Filipino values system.
Intrigued, I read further and happened upon the concept of kagandahang loob:
To show kagandahang loob [good will] is to open up one’s inside to another. It is to show the other that one means well. And one proves that one means well by performing beneficial actions. Hence, to exhibit kagandahang loob is not just to allow others to notice it, but to convey it to them. There must be transference. There must be an effort to have somebody else become a recipient. To convey kagandahang loob is to give part of oneself for the benefit of others. Through this conveyance, one expresses genuine concern and, by the same token, love.
It’s not enough that you benefit from the good I do, I have to do what I do with a good heart. Interesting.
In the context of kagandahang loob, what is most important about beneficial actions is that they be characterised by positive feelings towards the intended beneficiaries. It is not sufficient that they bear benefits, whether actually or potentially. In the reckoning of moral worth, the actual benefits may not even be necessary at all. It is the kagandahang loob characterising the deed that carries the greatest weight.
This then took me to kusang loob – the concept of free will. The good that I do should be done of my own volition, motivated by positive feelings towards whomever I’m doing it for, and not motivated by the anticipation of payment or reward. Wowser. That really is the essence of true giving.
Giving, like gratitude, is something we can train ourselves to do. I’ve been practising both for years to the point where they’ve become second nature. Initially, though, kagandahang loob didn’t meet the three criteria of kusang loob. Hand on my heart, my giving was often driven by guilt. I’d walk by someone begging on a street corner, ignore them, or make a snap judgement about how they were dressed, and then 100 metres on would have given myself the talking to of all talking to’s and have to turn back. I was giving because I felt I had to. I noticed that this guilt was particularly acute the morning after the night before. Some form of penance perhaps for my overindulgence. In the early days, I gave to get. I didn’t realise I was doing so but when there was no reciprocity, I got annoyed. Gradually though, the guilt disappeared, taking my expectations with it. Now, I give because I can.
It’s a no brainer. If I’m in a position to give money or time to some person or some cause, and if it would really make a difference, then why not. There’s nothing to think about. It’s like a knee-jerk reaction. While, like the dodgy chap in Luke’s gospel, I’d like to think that if the day ever came that I’d be stuck and in need of a dig out, someone would be there for me. And maybe my giving is a subconscious attempt to lay the groundwork for the proverbial rainy day. Perhaps.
But back to Luke. Himself pointed me to one interpretation that makes sense.
Some commentators question whether the steward was actually acting dishonestly. Was he actually denying his employer money which he was really owed or was he rather writing off the ‘commission’ which was being usuriously charged, thus inflating the proper amount owed? The Mosaic law forbade taking interest on loans from fellow Jews so one way of getting round this was to overcharge debtors. By reducing the debts to the proper level the steward was correcting an injustice and, at the same time, making these debtors favourably disposed towards him. Whatever the interpretation, the point Jesus is making is the same: the steward acted with shrewdness and intelligence to guarantee his future.
I’m grateful for the interesting path this took me on – from a difficult gospel reading to a discovery of the Filipino value system and the realisation that giving is now a natural part of my being.
If you fancy embarking on a path of giving, why not start with Tarnabod és Mi, an organisation in Hungary that is working hard to better the lives of children in the impoverished village of Tarnabod. Every penny/cent you give would go directly to that cause. I’m posting daily on Facebook until November 25 in an effort to broadcast their fundraising drive. The site is in English and Hungarian and easy to navigate. If you do donate, include a short note to say where you’re from – it would do them good to know that the world cares. Massive thanks for reading. The photo for this blog was taken by Szilvia Vekony back in 2017 when I was in the village making hot chocolate for the kids. For most of them, it was their first time tasting it. It was a bittersweet moment. So much joy and laughter in the face of so much poverty.