Gospel Reflections by Father Gerry Pierse, C.Ss.R.

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jon 3:1-5,10; Ps 80:2-3, 5-7; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20

Shrewd Selfishness

Albert Camus, in his book THE FALL, tells the story of a successful Paris lawyer, Jean Baptiste Clamence. He is above reproach in his professional life. He has never accepted a bribe or stooped to a shady deal. He takes up the cause of the poor and defenseless free of charge. He does small acts of kindness, such as helping a blind person across the street, at every opportunity. He is a model citizen - responsible, virtuous and respected.

He believes he is sincere. Yet within him there is immense pride and satisfaction in his own excellence. He owes nothing to anybody, but many people are indebted to him. He looks upon himself as a kind of moral superman.

Then late one evening something happens that causes the music to stop and the lights to go out of his life. As he crosses a bridge he passes a young woman. A few moments later he hears a splash, as of someone falling into the water, and a cry for help. He hears the cry several times but he does nothing. He goes away slowly trembling from cold and shock, and tells nobody about what happened.

But the incident had a terrible effect on him. It shattered his illusion of his own virtue and goodness. Why had he not gone to the rescue of the drowning girl? Suddenly he begins to see himself as he really is - a phony, a play-actor, a man bursting with vanity, pride, anger, lust and shrewd selfishness. Unable to take what he discovers about himself he closes his office and throws himself into a world of alcohol and debauchery. He ends up frequenting bars where he tries to tell his story to anyone who will give him an ear. But it is all hopeless because in his world there is no redemption, no way out. And that is how the story ends.

The trap of shrewd selfishness is a great one, especially for so-called virtuous people. We who think we give our services "for free" can often be receiving a rich but destructive reward in the adulation we give to ourselves and in the admiration that we imagine we get from others.
In today's Gospel we have Jesus beginning his ministry by announcing good news. "The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news." What is this good news? Essentially it is that forgiveness is available and that recovery is possible. One can find one's true self even after a disastrous fall, or maybe precisely through the fall itself. The fall - a failure in business, the breakdown of a relationship, a serious personal sin - may be exactly what we need to open our eyes to our true selves.

Often our traditional kind of prayer is geared to asking God to help us to achieve the objects of our pride or shrewd selfishness. We tell God what we want to boost our power, prestige and possessions and we feel betrayed by him if we do not get what we want. In meditation, on the other hand, we ask for nothing. We just be in God's presence. But it is impossible to just be in silence and to continue in our shrewd selfishness. We cannot continue to be silent and to be basically and interiorly dishonest.

Most of us can identify with the lawyer in Camus' story. No matter how we appear to others, deep down we know that we are not the people that we should be. We all have had our falls and failures. The good news is that we are not forever prisoners of our past. We are still loved by God and this love is unconditional. Sometimes God even allows a fall to help us see ourselves as we truly are. God's love, mercy, and forgiveness are available to us if we are open to receive them. We are sinners but we are forgiven sinners. The practice of meditation helps us shrewd selfish people to first recognize our selfishness and then to accept the great joy of being forgiven. It helps us to leave self and everything behind to really follow Jesus "to become fishers of people" as the disciples did in today's Gospel.

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Taken from Sundays into Silence - A Pathway to Life. Copyright © 1998 by Claretian Publications

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