The struggle against selfishness

child1Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Mark 9:30-37)

Jesus is always for us the model in all things. He calls us to a complete transformation of heart, mind and body, so that we live only to carry out the will of God in our lives. This is our vocation: to be so identified with Jesus that we live not for ourselves but for God and for those around us. For Jesus, this means, of course, that he will be mistreated, suffer and die for us, so that he will rise again from the dead, and lead us into everlasting life. His disciples “did not understand the saying and were afraid to question him” about it. Perhaps this was because they knew that this plan would involve them in the sufferings he is talking about. We, too, have a hard time understanding the sufferings of Christ, as we know that we have to follow the Master. None of us enjoys suffering! In any case, his Apostles try to change the subject, away from suffering, and onto themselves (who of them was “the greatest”). Isn’t it true that when we try to avoid the sufferings of Christ we also are led to a kind of resting on ourselves, our comfort, our preferences or advantages? It’s hard for us to be abandoned into the divine plans of the Lord in such a way that we forget about ourselves, and yet we—like the Apostles—know that this forgetfulness of self, this self-denial, is what Christianity is all about.

Thankfully, Jesus clearly spells out the proper attitude the Apostles should have: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all”. Once again in the teaching of Jesus we see the essential importance of humility. Strive to be the last of all, and the servant of all. To focus on the needs of the simple humble people in need around us, in this passage symbolized by care of children, is to know and love Christ himself. It is a constant struggle for us “to get out of ourselves” and to be generous with the others around us. Self-love and selfishness lead to so many problems for us, for the Church, for the world. Of course, this has been the constant struggle for the moment of Original Sin, and it is repeated in our own lives as we strive to overcome the tendency to selfishness. But with the grace of God, and the faith and the hope, and the love that come with that grace, we can begin again. And isn’t that exactly what Our Lord is teaching his Apostles (and us) here? You can begin again. You have been selfish and self-oriented, you have wondered whether you are the greatest, but you can have a new start in humbly reaching out to the others in need around you. Begin here, begin now. May the grace of the Lord always be near and within us so that we can begin again in our struggle against our selfishness, and lead us into the mission of generous service to God and neighbor. Amen.

4 comments on “The struggle against selfishness

  1. timindaburgh says:

    I liked this article. Keep up the good work. Don’t see any typos or grammatical problems.

    Tim

  2. Jim Crockett says:

    Marty, and all, there’s a wonderful book by Fr. Michael Gaitley, called “Consoling the Heart of Jesus.” It’s actually the book at the heart of a parish-wide retreat available on DVD. Anyway, Fr. Michael goes very deep into Jesus’ suffering, even today, and what our response should be–and that is to not be afraid, because he knows us, and will only give us what we can handle–very much the St. Therese “Little Way.” Anyway, i find it very helpful and a way to put ourselves at the foot of the cross, where Jesus just wants us to be with him. He made the great sacrifice, so we don’t have to. But we do need to always stay at his side.

    –jim

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