Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Battle With “Self”

September 23, 2018 –– 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom  2:12, 17–20 / Psalm 54 / James 3:16–4:3 / Mark 9:30–37
The Battle With “Self”

Jesus was preparing the disciples for his coming death, and all the while they were selfishly discussing among themselves who was the greatest. We so easily get the truth about life backwards. What seems to give life only leads to death. Jesus dares us to believe that what appears to be death is the way to life. Jesus is telling us––and showing us through his sacrificial love: If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.

It’s easier to be like the disciples that day than to be like Jesus. We are too easily aware of our status with one another. We can too easily keep record of how many times we have been asked to do the dirty work. We can too easily gravitate towards those who are most like us. We can too easily use our opinions selfishly. It is popular opinion, not Jesus, that says “Take care of number one.”

More things affect our approach to life than we are usually aware of. A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, were invited to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life. Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups––porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some quite exquisite––telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the alumni had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: "If you noticed, all the expensive and nice looking cups were taken, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is natural for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the main source of your problems and stress. What was offered to all of you was the coffee, but you also went for the best cups…. and then some of you began eyeing each other's cups.” 

I remember John Michael Talbot telling about a little spat at the monastery. All the residents live communally, but some were quarreling with each other because there were a few favorite coffee mugs, and not everyone could have one. Maybe it’s coffee that shows our true colors!

We can say, “Well, everyone does that….” Or, we can ask the Holy Spirit to let us truly see ourselves. If we are willing to open ourselves totally to Jesus we will see self intruding far more than we would have imagined. Someone pointed out to me years ago how easy it is for most people in front of the line at a potluck dinner to take the nicer pieces of fried chicken (and for those in the back of the line to be a bit resentful). Growing up into Jesus means giving up what makes us look good on the surface––even always doing what is most convenient for us––so we can lovingly serve others. This is essentially the opposite of popular opinion.

To use the coffee illustration, God’s Life is the coffee; possessions and our position in society are the cups. The outward things are just containers for true Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of Life we can live. If we concentrate on the cup––our appearance, our status, our possessions––we will tragically take for granted the “coffee” of life that God has provided for us.

It may seem little, but this is one of the battlegrounds for our soul’s salvation. Who is going to sit on the throne of my heart? I have to ask myself this question regularly. When the little sins are allowed to grow, they can develop into the hatred and animosity described in the earlier readings. There is a voice which is at war against God speaking into the ear of our souls, I me mine, I me mine, I me mine (George Harrison got that one right). Let’s be careful about the voices we listen to and the impulses we obey.

Jesus came to save us from ourselves. As we follow him, our calling is to be his witnesses in this world by the way we give and serve and love.

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