25th Sunday of the Year Reflection
By Fr John Allen Green OFM – Before 313, the church was on the bottom of society, which is the privileged vantage point for understanding the liberating power of Gospel for both the individual and for society. Within the space of a few decades, the church moved from the bottom to the top, literally from the catacombs to the basilicas. The Roman basilicas were large buildings for court and other public assembly, and they became Christian worship spaces.
When the Christian church became the established religion of the empire, it started reading the Gospel from the position of maintaining power and social order instead of experiencing the profound power of powerlessness that Jesus revealed. In a sense, Christianity almost became a different religion!
The failing Roman Empire needed an emperor, and Jesus was used to fill the power gap. In effect, we Christians took Jesus out of the Trinity and made him into God on a throne. An imperial system needs law and order and clear belonging systems more than it wants mercy, meekness, or transformation. Much of Jesus’ teaching about simple living, nonviolence, inclusivity, and love of enemies became incomprehensible. Relationship—the shape of God as Trinity—was no longer as important. Christianity’s view of God changed: the Father became angry and distant, Jesus was reduced to an organizing principle, and for all practical and dynamic purposes, the Holy Spirit was forgotten. Richard Rohr: A Changing Religion
When We No Longer Know the Nature of God
Many thinkers have recognised that there is a terminal sickness within the human condition, a selfishness that is leading us towards total destruction. Jesus points us to another way.
Today’s gospel turns everything upside down! The teachings of Jesus stands in the opposition to the perceived wisdom of our philosophy, moral codes and laws. Perhaps this is the reason we so often put our words into the mouth of God to support our way of thinking. “God helps those who helps themselves” is all too often our response to our own angry selfishness. Benjamin Franklin popularised this motto of “helping ourselves” in his Poor Richard’s Almanac. …let us hearken to good advice, and something may be done for us. “God helps them that help themselves,” as Poor Richard says, in his almanac of 1733.
Nowhere in the Bible is this to be found. Jesus teaching could rather be summarised “God helps those who cannot help themselves, through us”.
What Selfishness Does
We all know selfish people, often they are without empathy and downright mean. Yet each one of us is selfish from time to time. Society encourages our striving to be at the top of the pile; to be winners, shakers and movers. Social media and advertising sell us on the illusions on what we need to look like, what we must own and where we need to stay if we wish to be successful and happy.
Selfishness hurts other people, sometimes at little to no personal gain. A selfish person also ends up losing friends or loved ones because no matter how charming or interesting a selfish person may be, a relationship with a selfish person is just plain too much hard work. Selfish people demand our presence, our time, our support and our constant approval and acclaim of their achievements.
People who are selfish are always thinking that their way of living life is “the dream” and that anyone who tries to give them feedback is just trying to do them harm or has ulterior motives. A truly selfish person would never consider the possibility that they are selfish.
What can we do to change this way of thinking and to model ourselves on the way laid out by Jesus.
Jesus Says to Put Ourselves Last
Jesus’ admonition begins with the practice of putting ourselves last. We can begin to walk this way in little practices to change our habitual attitude. The next time you’re doing something, whether you’re the checkout counter or waiting for your seat on the bus, stop and let the other people have what they want first, whether it’s food, comfort, or ease. Doing this from a grateful heart and with a smile can change every situation for the better.
Growing in awareness, empathy and humility is the way laid out by the gospel. This is nurtured and grows as we put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Walking a mile in another person’s shoes can truly change our life now and for eternity.
You have had a terrible day and bad news dogged your path at every footstep. There is almost a knee-jerk reaction of seeking to transmit our pain to others so as to feel better about ourselves. Just ask any subordinate in the workplace what happens when the boss is having a bad day. Many families know to stay out of the way when dad or mom gets home after a bad day. The practice of silence rather than railing against the unfairness of life brings gratitude, peace and joy into our lives. The more we practice empathy and wondering what other people are going through, the sooner we’ll be able to give up our selfishness.
We Don’t Always Need “Stuff”
Selfish people are always repeating that mantra, “I want, I want, I want…” thinking that everything in the world should be theirs and that they should deserve every little thing that they dream about. Do we really need all these things? If we dig deep enough, we will find that most of the things that we thought were absolutely necessary were actually very easy to live without.
This is a great skill when we are learning to compromise. We naturally become more willing to concede to other people if we realize that the thing we really wanted is more like that thing that we would just really like to have one day.
Enjoy giving the spotlight to others. Selfish people cringe when someone else goes in the spotlight because they always want centre stage. Emotional blackmail is the tool of selfish people. If we want to follow the way of Jesus to stop being selfish, then we have to not only give up the spotlight, but we have to enjoy letting other people take it. Be proud of other people for achieving things instead of wishing it was me.
A Response to Fear of Loss
Let go of feelings of jealousy or bitterness and relish in the success of others. If you’re always wishing to be the one who is the most successful, then ask yourself if you’re missing something in your life that keeps you from being content with what you’re achieving. An examination of conscience will show that selfishness is often a response to fear of loss and a deep-seated dread of not quite being good enough. Compassion and empathy begins with ourselves, recognising our weaknesses and turning our face towards God’s Mercy.
With the help of Jesus we can come to follow the Way and avoid the destruction that threatens all of our world.
May the Lord grant you peace!