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Homily for Fri of the 31st Wk in Ordinary Time, 10 Nov 2023, Lk 16:1-8
How do you say “utang na loob” in English? You don’t translate it literally; otherwise it makes no sense. Rather, you look for a dynamic equivalent—like a “debt of gratitude.” Depending on the usage, it can be a more archaic way of saying in Tagalog,“please”, or “do me a favor”, or “I owe you one”.
We know what “utang” is, literally. It is something loaned to you which you are obliged to pay back in due time. We also know what “loob” is—something that comes from within. And so we know that “utang na loob” is not about an external transaction or a material or financial sort of indebtedness, even if it might involve some money. It has to do rather with an inner drive or compulsion to be kind because someone has been kind to you; to be generous because someone has been generous o you. You may try to express it by reciprocating it, as in wanting to find an opportunity to pay back a favor, or even to pay it forward as in extending the favor to someone else, especially when you cannot reciprocate it.
Our Gospel is a parable. And so we may miss the point if we read and interpret it literally. It is not about a master praising his steward for being dishonest. It’s really about a master learning in the end through his steward that loans come in many forms. If he thinks he is wise by lending money and demanding a huge interest payment for it, his steward is even wiser because he is able to use somebody else’s capital and claim a different kind of interest for it—namely, “utang-na-loob.”
As in most stories, the moral comes in the end: the children of this world are wiser in dealing with their own kind than the children of the light. They know how to translate their worldly values in spiritual terms, and develop a concept of “spiritual capital” or better yet, “spiritual investment.”
There is another Gospel parable that drives home basically the same point. It is about a master who embarks on a journey and entrusts different amounts of money to three different stewards. Later he comes back and demands an accounting to check if they somehow earned a return of investment. To master says to the first two of his stewards, “Well done.. Because you could be trusted with little things I will entrust to you greater responsibilities.” The material goods of this world are no doubt important, but they are just “little things” compared to the “greater investments” that the Lord wants us to engage in. Right at this moment, you could have used your time for something else; but you came here to pray with the Church.