Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Generosity, Talents and Proverbs

I've been thinking about Luke 6:38:

"Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full--pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back."

I heard the spirit of this quotation misapplied recently and perverted into a kind of evil karma.

I really can't conceive how a person goes through life with such a view of the world and the people in it.

Their days must feel very heavy.

Even with all I've been through in my life, I've never felt that kind of bitterness or animosity towards anyone, ever.   No matter what they said or did.

So after hearing those words, I began to feel very aware of and grateful for the fact that, whatever mental or emotional material I'm made of, it has never led me down such a dark path.

Anger is one thing; hasty or harsh words are another.  The kind of deep-seeded sense that others deserve punishment and that one not only has the capacity but also the right to mete it out to or wish it upon others... that's just terribly sad. 

I thought that perhaps the person was misremembering the Biblical story of Job and conflating it with the spirit of the verse from Luke. In the Book of Job, Satan comes before God and, when God points out that Job is "a perfect and upright man," Satan claims, "put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face."

To prove that he is right, God turns Job's fortunes over to Satan, who destroys everything that he has. But Job refuses to curse God or to listen to the "advice" of his shabby friends.

Instead, he remains humble in the face of the things he cannot explain; as his reward, God returns everything to him twice over.

There is also the possibility that the person had in mind the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and Luke 19:11-27. In this story, told by Jesus, a man divides his property among his servants: to one, he gives five talents, to another, two, and to a third, one.

The servant with five talents invests them and earns five more, the servant with two talents invests them and earns two more. The servant who is given one talent, though, simply buries it in the ground.

When the man returns, the first two servants give him the doubled sums they have earned; the third servant, however, complains that he was afraid of the man and his harsh and vindictive nature, so he simply buried the money and has nothing additional to give to him.

The single talent is taken from him and given to the servant who earned ten, and the "lazy, evil" servant is cursed for his lack of productivity and his excuses and cast out.

The lesson is that devotion and service involve risk and labor. Playing it safe, hiding what you have to protect your own interests and then blaming others for the negative results, will not be rewarded.

In all of these examples, though, and even in the Buddhist and Hindu conceptions of karma, there is never a sense that humans can or should gloat at the thought that their fellow human beings may be receiving what they perceive as "well-deserved" punishments for something they've determined they should be punished for.

In every religious tradition I know of and in the moral philosophies of the atheist thinkers I'm familiar with, that's just showing the world that you're quite ignorant and incredibly cruel.

And it's a sure-fire way to ensure that, whenever your own portion of life's sadness and senselessness arrives, no one will be there to comfort you. 

Ultimately, I decided that the words of Proverbs 18 apply here:
"In estrangement one seeks pretexts: with all persistence he picks a quarrel.

The fool takes no delight in understanding, but rather in displaying what he thinks.

With wickedness comes contempt, and with disgrace comes scorn.

The words from a man's mouth are deep waters, but the source of wisdom is a flowing brook...."

"The fool's mouth is his ruin; his lips are a snare to his life..."

"Before his downfall a man's heart is haughty, but humility goes before honors.

He who answers before he hears-- his is the folly and the shame."
And perhaps most fitting, the observation of Proverbs 18:14:
"A man's spirit sustains him in infirmity-- but a broken spirit who can bear?"

No comments:

Post a Comment

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."