From Selfishness to Selfless Love
September 19, 2021 (readings)
- Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Fr. John Bullock, LC
They 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 he 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.”
Opening Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, help me to listen to your word with a childlike disposition, open to all that you wish to reveal to me. Increase my faith to see as you see. Strengthen my hope to hold on to you in times of trouble. Deepen my love for you, and in you, for all men and women. I also bring all those people you have entrusted to my prayer to you today.
Who Is the Greatest?: A desire for grandeur is a good thing. God placed that desire for greatness in man’s heart; it is his true calling. Tragically, man frequently desires far too little. The word for sin in Hebrew means “to miss the mark.” We continue to miss the mark and exchange the glory of God for a grass-eating bull (Psalms 106:20-21). That is, in sinning we seek the false promise of happiness outside of God. We convert creatures into idols; what was meant to lead us to God distracts us. In his Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Ratzinger, quoting Louis Evely, writes that Adam’s sin did not consist in wanting to be like God. That was indeed his vocation. His error was in misconstruing the image of God as independent and autonomous, and by imitating this false image he made himself disobedient. Adam withdrew into loneliness, whereas God revealed himself as a community in the Trinity. The apostles were thinking like Adam in their conversation, they sought grandeur in the affirmation of self above others.
Servant of All: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Jesus gently but firmly corrected the apostles’ misconstrued sense of grandeur. Within the Trinity, God is a community of self-emptying love that finds joy in the other (Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Ratzinger). In his public life, Jesus modeled this for the apostles repeatedly. He fed the hungry, cured the sick, cast out demons, and taught the people. “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Therefore, with the aid of grace, the apostles had to work to put on the mind of Christ, which is to obey the Father and to serve others (Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Ratzinger). All Christians must make the same journey from selfishness to selfless love.
Handed Over: “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise.” Our Lord’s Passion and death was the height of his self-giving. This connection between love and sacrifice was hard for the apostles to grasp. Whenever Jesus spoke of his impending suffering, the apostles focused on earthly glory, such as in this passage and when James and John asked to be seated at his right and at his left in his Kingdom (Mark 10:35). It was perhaps precisely since this lesson of self-emptying love was so counterintuitive to a fallen man that Our Lord chose the cross as our means of redemption. He wanted to drive the lesson home through his life and death. Eventually, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, the apostles followed their Master’s path, willing to die the death of martyrs.
Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, like Adam and the apostles, my inclination is to self-exaltation. Help me to become meek and humble of heart, thereby experiencing that your yoke is easy and your burden light (cf. Matthew 11:29-30). I have experienced the joy of serving, and yet each time some aversion to doing so again remains. Let my contemplation of your example inspire imitation.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will offer one act of service to someone else out of love for you.
For Further Reflection: Read How two teens created a national volunteer group by shopping for their grandparents.
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