Authenticity — It’s a much discussed word in many human circles — in religion, philosophy, politics, ecology, activism, social-work etc. I am not interested to add another definition to the already existing pool. I read the parable of Good Samaritain in the light of a philosopher called Jean-Luc Marion, and may be it gives some thoughts to authenticity — a Christian authenticity, though it can’t be much different from human authenticity too. The point is not to argue which is better, but to directly jump into the parable. (A clarification is important: Authenticity is not the same as being perfect. Authentic people will surely have faults.)
Logic of Gift vs Logic of Possession
Gift is an important concept in the philosophy of Marion, and this might help us to understand the parable. Both the sons were enjoying the gifts of their father, which include everything the father had. It is difficult to imagine that the father was any kind of authoritarian figure.
What is the meaning of gift? It is not something I have bought, but given to me freely by someone. It is not necessarily something I deserve too. I have not paid for it or worked for it. It is not like a salary for a job I did. Both sons were enjoying everything of their father as a gift.
The younger son felt the need to possess the gift. After the death of the father, they would have come to him, but he wanted to have it (or possess it). Or to put it simply, he doesn’t want to enjoy them as gifts; he wants to enjoy them as his possessions (My own). And what followed is well-known.
Marion says that the elder son was like the younger son. The only difference (or the politically or diplomatically astute action) was that he never asked for his share. He says to his father, “I was working like a slave” who might be waiting to possess it. Again the logic is not that of gift.
Along with the beautiful and powerful image of prodigal father (ever-forgiving), there is an invitation to see life as a gift and less as a possession. If we had that sensibility, today’s ecological crisis or stagerring inequalities wouldn’t have been there.
But what that has to do with Christian authenticity? This parable tells about a prodigal father who gives lavishly. But it also invites us to see “those gifts” of that “lavish father (or mother)” as gifts and not possessions. What are the implications for a Christian-living?
My faith, my traditions, my life, my relationships (everything I hold dear) is a gift. What is new in this? All believers do take it that way. When it is taken as a gift, there comes a lot of new dimensions.
- Gratitude for them (It is not something I earned)
- A resposibility in the way I use them
- No sense of arrogance (every manner of looking down on others who are different from me)
- I needn’t expect any other gift for taking care of these gifts well. I may get further gifts. But even without those gifts, I have a responsibility to act responsibily with my existing gifts.
I remember an atheistic/agnostic lady(difficult to categorize her), a good friend, telling me that she enjoys life; she tries to appreciate everything she sees; she learns from every conversations and encounters. She has raised her children well and are happy for them. She is happy and grateful for life, and she is okay to live a long life, but not afraid to die too. She doesn’t have any after-life expectations.
There are many people (beyond the distinctions of believer/non-believer) involved in all sorts of social actions, works for the poor, refugees, migrants, minorities or discriminated people. They see their life as a gift and continue to enjoy their life along with serving others (evening to the verge of martyrdom), with the hope of no further gift like heaven or nirvana or liberation from cycle of rebirth.
Are these people authentically Christian? Whatever your answer is, their lives are a living example to a gospel-authenticity, atleast an authenticity that is coming out of the parable of the prodigal son. May be a few more questions that I see coming-out from this paradigms are…
- Christian understanding definitely sees a connection between this life and next life? But can I see a gift dimension in the “after-life” along with seeing that in “this life”? This may help us to reduce much of our arrogance and to live this life more meaningfully.
- Can Eucharist — probably the greatest gift in Christian tradition — remains a gift of God and not something I deserve or possess?
- Am I a Christian because that identity is meaningful and enjoyable or only because of the love for after-life? (I do believe in after-life, but the faith can’t happen at the cost of denying incarnation of Jesus, who announces that Kingdom of God is already there.
I will conclude with a quote that I have heard somewhere (i don’t know who is the author) and which moves me.
NB: I know that the best is to live by example and it doesn’t happen always with me. Jesus gives a second option, which might fit for you when you read it.