25th Sunday Reflection: The Wisdom of Compassion
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – (Mark 9:30–37) –
There is a sickness within the human condition, selfishness that leads to death. Jesus points us to another way. These teachings stand in the opposition to the perceived wisdom of our philosophy, moral codes and laws. Perhaps this is the reason we so often fall into the fallacy of appealing to authority and even put our words into the mouth of God to support our way of argument.
We all know selfish people, 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 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. After all, we argue, selfishness benefits the progress of society.
Yet, selfishness hurts people. Selfish people demand our presence, our time, our support, and our constant approval and acclaim of their achievements. Selfish people are always thinking that their way of living life is ‘the true dream’ and that anyone who tries to give them feedback is just trying to do them harm, is wrong, or has ulterior motives. A truly selfish person would never consider the possibility that they could be wrong or are selfish. Yet we naturally point to others, away from our own heart, ‘evil lies out there, over there…’
What can we do to change this way of thinking and to model ourselves on the way laid out by Jesus’ admonition with the practice of putting ourselves last, and servant of all?
We can begin to walk this way in little practices to change our habitual attitudes. The next time you’re doing something, whether you’re at 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. These are the fruits of holiness.
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. 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 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, the sooner we’ll be able to give up our selfishness, or as St Francis put it, ‘our selfish misery’.
Selfishness confuses us due to the dualistic nature of our thinking. This is the tendency to think only in terms of opposites. Good and bad, virtue and vice, up and down, far and near, big and small, and so on. Selfishness, like many other concepts, is way too broad to be fitted into two extremes. We demand to be ‘right’, to be in the right, and to have ‘our way’. Against this Jesus tells us that he is ‘The Way’.
This is a skill and benefit when we learn to let go of this thinking. Enjoy giving the spotlight to others. 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.
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 your own achievements.
An examination of conscience will show that selfishness is often a response to the fear of loss and a deep-seated dread of not quite being good enough. Compassion and empathy begin with ourselves, recognising our weaknesses and turning our face towards God’s Mercy.
- 30th Sunday Reflection: Compassion as the Way of Vision - October 22, 2021
- 29th Sunday Reflection: The Outcast that Redeems - October 15, 2021
- 28th Sunday Reflection: The Way Out of Discontent and Loneliness - October 8, 2021