Headline: Rediscovering the New Man

Posted on: 2015-08-05

The folly of divine love

The parable of the prodigal son is one of the best-known in the Bible. It has been interpreted in many ways in a bid to draw as many lessons from it as possible. One of the positions taken on it is to declare the Father in the story himself the prodigal one, since he did not think twice before granting the request of his wayward. "Give me my share of the estate", the son demanded, when in reality nothing belonged to him. He had no real right of inheritance when his father was still alive (Lk 15: 12). However, given that Jesus told this parable to explain how God relates to us his children, one must see it as a demonstration of the wideness and depth of God's mercy. That is what David, the psalmist celebrated by repeatedly declaring "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his mercy endures forever" (Ps 136). It is the unusual logic of the one who would leave ninety nine sheep and go in search of the only one that has strayed and when he found it, would then call for celebration for it much more than ninety nine that never strayed (Lk. 15: 4-7).

Between being and having

The parable of the prodigal son has a special lesson to teach about the distance between the importance we attach to our essence and our possession, between who we are and what we have. The prodigal son focused his attention on material possessions and lost patience with even his own father. He grabbed what did not belong to him and abandoned those things that should matter most to him, his father and his family for a life of debauchery. Soon enough he realized that he had left behind his most valuable "possessions"; his inner self, his dignity and his son-ship. No wonder he would have gladly eaten the pigs' food which no one would offered him . By rejecting his loving father, he had forfeited that which gave him a claim to human compassion and solidarity. God's fatherhood of all humanity had been jettisoned by him for material things. In today's society as well, many make these false choices all the time, claiming what does not belong to them as a right  and rejecting what God in his mercy has granted them for their inheritance.

Putting on the new man

This is a great challenge to all Christians who are especially called to holiness and are obliged to strike a balance between the flesh and the spirit. Saint Paul's teaching on the difference between the self, ruled by the flesh and that ruled by the spirit is elaborate. "You must give up your former ways of living, the old self, whose deceitful desires bring self-destruction. Renew yourselves spiritually from inside, and put on the new self, or the self according to God, that is created in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:22-24). Going by the number of Christians who, like others, prize material possessions above their salvation today, one could start thinking that God has actually changed his mind on laying treasures in heaven rather than on earth. But God certainly has not. It should worry us that sin seems to have vanished from the language of many preachers and Christians today with every acceptable excuse for pursuing selfish and material interests. In the letter to the Romans Paul admonished: "Do not allow sin any control over your mortal bodies, do not submit yourselves to its evil inclinations" (Rom. 6:12-13). And more, "On one side is Sin: its reward, death; on the other side is God; he gives us, by grace, life everlasting in Christ Jesus, our Lord" (Rom 6:23).

Putting the best inside

The new man which Paul speaks of is the spiritual man against whom the forces of evil habitually work. That new self is meant to be protected against those forces. Paul said: "Finally, be strong in the Lord with his energy and strength. Put on the whole armor of God to be able to resist the cunning of the devil" (Eph 6: 10-11) The truth is that too many people today put their best outside rather than inside. If more people would pay just a fraction of the attention which they pay to their body and material things to their soul, the road to salvation and divine favour would lie wide open to them and the change we all crave would be unstoppable.

The road back home

The words of Scripture daily offer true Christians the opportunity to take the path of return of the prodigal son. In introspection he said "I will get up and go back to my Father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against God and before you" (Lk. 15: 18). Having planned his strategy well, he set out and discovered that with his ever-merciful Father he never needed all the scheming and strategizing. His penitent and transformed heart had already secured his Father's compassion. The way to salvation is inevitably through that introspection and remorse. Without it, God is not moved for he cannot be deceived (Gal 6:7). Once the prodigal son attained that state he did not care anymore about possessions. He in fact asked to be treated as a slave, only too happy to be readmitted into communion with his loving Father. He would still have many battles to fight against the resentment of his brother, the senior son. But in fact, he needed fear nothing. The good Father had become his defender and spoke for him (Lk. 15: 31-32). That is the nature of our great compassionate God. Such immense mercy awaits us all if only we would sincerely put on the new man, repent and tread the path back to him.