Selfish or Selfless?

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ -Mark 12:29-30

Dear members and friends,

Being a parent is the most challenging role that I chose to embody in my short life on earth so far. However, the challenges brought by my children are often very helpful to my own spiritual cultivation. Often, they bring matters and issues that I take granted or believe to fully understand into a new light, which enriches me with new inspirations and learnings. One day, my daughter suddenly came to me with a serious look and asked, “Daddy, what is the difference between being selfish and self-centered?” As usual I gave her an explanation that satisfied her for the moment. But, somehow the question lingered in my mind for a long time.

Both words, selfish and self-centered, have to do with the self. Simply speaking, being selfish could mean to prioritize one’s own interest at the cost of others’ interests. Being self-centered could mean primarily caring about one’s own interest while being indifferent to the interests of others. However, what gave me pause was the truth that we often have trouble defining “self” and what it means to be interested in that self. As Socrates pointed out 2,500 years ago, knowing one’s self is the same as being wise. Thus, I do not dare to make a bold claim of my “self” and its interests. Yet, looking into this matter deeply revealed to me that I am still selfish to a degree and self-centered to another degree.

This is perhaps why Jesus teaches in Mark that the first commandment is, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is a simple repeat of the commandment that God gave to the Israelites through Moses in Deuteronomy. In this commandment, the key words are “with all your”. In order to love God Creator with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we might need to either ignore or remove all interests of one’s “self”. That is why this was given to us both as the first commandment by Moses and Jesus; because this is the hardest and the ultimate commandment that requires emptying of one’s “self” and replacing it with love for God!

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee