For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. Mark 8:35

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus makes a statement which on the surface appears contradictory. If you save your life you will lose it but if you lose your life you will find it. Sounds crazy?

The question is: “What does it mean to lose one’s life”?


To lose one’s life and to find it is a call to renounce selfishness in all its forms and to live one’s life in the service of God and one’s neighbour. To lose one’s life is to die to self. This thought is alluded to in all the Gospels.  In John’s Gospel the concept is clear: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

The concept of losing one’s life is a challenge and a demand. It is a challenge to go against the accepted norm of looking after one’s interests and it is a demand to do something radical and out of the ordinary.

Dying to self and living for the neighbour can be linked to the commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ It speaks of unconditional love for God and the neighbour. It is a requirement to put God and neighbour above self.

Dying to self is difficult and for many people it seems impossible. But we only gain our lives when we die to self. Our love for God must take priority over our human and earthly relationships and our possessions. It is to surrender all so that we can live for God.

Losing our lives so that we can serve God is a basic requirement of discipleship. The true disciple surrenders his/her life to God so that he or she can be fully used by God. There is no holding back of self once we commit to discipleship. St. Paul writes:  “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).When we die to ourselves we open our lives to the Holy Spirit and Christ lives in us. We become Christ-like and  are transformed into his image. Paul writes to the Galatians:  “ I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Those who die to self and deny themselves for the sake of Christ are never losers. We always gain. Jesus teaches:  "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19: 27-29).

Dying to self also speaks to human selfishness. If you live your life for yourself only you will lose it, but if you live your life for others you will find it.

What gives rise to human selfishness? The economic situation which makes it difficult for us to make ends meet; so we believe we have to forget others and think about self. The concept, ‘survival of the fittest’ breeds selfishness. The belief that the individual matters and not the community. The thinking which says you must be successful at all cost drives selfishness. As  Christians we must overcome the temptation to selfishness and lose our lives so that we will find them.

Human selfishness must not be confused with the need to provide for our basic needs and necessities which we need for living a meaningful life. It refers to an attitude which drives us to put self above everything and everyone; we  do whatever is necessary to achieve our goals without regard to the damage it will do to our neighbour. We do not take into account people’s feelings and emotions, their human dignity and pride; in the process we act without love.
Human selfishness prevents us from helping our neighbour. Because it is centred on self it tells us that if we help our neighbours we will lose and others will benefit. This evil fosters envy, greed, jealousy and hate. It does not value the rights of people and will destroy anyone or anything thing that it perceives to be standing in its way. When we allow selfishness to be a dominant factor in our lives we become unkind, and unloving, we act without mercy or compassion, we fail to be our brother’s keeper. We become arrogant and believe that we can do as we like and say what we like without thinking about the neighbour.

Human selfishness which is linked to selfish ambition is not good for the community. It robs us of living a truly human life, to be human is to live in community. It destroys the community spirit as it fosters individualism and undermines the corporate nature of society. It does not ask “what is good for the community?” but “what is good for me”? And if it is not good for me it is not good for any one.

Why should we be critical of human selfishness? It goes against the Christian understanding of love. Unlike love, it is not patient nor kind; it is jealous, envious and boastful; it is arrogant and rude; bears malice and is resentful; it rejoices at the wrong and it does not have the capacity to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and  endure all things.

In order to die so that we might live, we have a choice of faith, hope, love or selfishness; the best of these is love and its brings life, the worse is selfishness and it brings death.

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