But deliver us from evil…
(Overcoming Our Egos)
When pride is overcome, we cure a symptom of our separation from God not its root cause. We are like the frog born at the bottom of the well, who is unaware of the larger world that exists beyond the walls of his home. These walls are what psychologists have come to call the ego, and the well itself what Jesus (lacking our modern lingo) called the pit, where the fire (i.e. our desire) is never quenched.1 It is what some have called our “original sin”. Yet “sin” is the wrong word. For sins are connected to choices. And we did not choose to be placed in the well—although it is our choice whether or not we remain there.
The well is better described as our original condition. And Jesus’s entire ministry was about teaching others to overcome it. Asking us to abandon our egos though is a tough sell. Because while we know that egoism leads to pride, hate, violence, theft, adultery and every evil under the sun,2 we also believe that our egos define who we are. We think that if we lose our ego, we will lose our identity; and we are offended by those who suggest otherwise.
This offense that we take is registered in the Gospel of John during the story of the Last Supper—the last fellowship for Jesus before he crucifies his ego, abandons the well, and experiences full consciousness in Christ. At the dinner table, the disciples cry out against the “harsh doctrine” they are being taught.3 Their shock is not over the eating of the flesh and blood of the Son of Man (as those are just metaphors), but that in becoming “united” with Christ that they will lose their sense of self.
We, like the disciples, consider our egos as being solid and permanent. That is the devilish illusion. For if we look back upon our lives, we find that the person we identify as “me” changes as we grow. The middle–aged man or woman often looks with strange fascination toward the person they were at eighteen, just as the senior does toward their middle–aged self. Sometimes we cannot even believe the person we were yesterday!
These changes are all evidence of the Holy Spirit at work, as it pushes us to recognize the vast kingdom that exists outside the well in which we live. When we overcome the well, we don’t lose ourselves, but expand our realities of place and self to include joys and experiences that were beyond our imagination. We leave our ego identity behind to discover our soul’s identity,4 which is ever growing and limitless.
Our journey out of the well is symbolized by Jesus’s teaching of the cross, and the Gospel writers’ depiction of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. Whether Jesus was actually crucified or not is a matter that can be left to personal belief. What is to be recognized is that even if Jesus were not crucified by the Romans, we would have had to do it ourselves for the sake of the gospel story. Because in order to understand the profound depth of Jesus’s renunciation of the ego, we need a crucifixion parable to guide us.
Parables are able to provoke that “aha” experience we get when…
The Lord’s Prayer. To continue reading, click on page 2 at the bottom.
- It would be better for you to enter the kingdom of God with only one eye, than to have both eyes and be thrown into the pit: 48 Where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched. – Mark 9:47-48 [↩]
- For it is from within, out of the hearts of men, that there come evil thoughts: unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, 22 Greed, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, haughtiness, folly; 23 All these wicked things come from within, and do defile a man.” – Mark 7:21–23 [↩]
- On hearing it, many of his disciples said: “This is harsh doctrine! Who can bear to listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, aware that his disciples were murmuring about it, said to them: 62 “Does this offend you?” – John 6:60–62 [↩]
- He must become greater, and I less. 31 He who comes from above is above all others; but a child of earth is earthly, and his teaching is earthly, too. He who comes from heaven is above all others. – John 3:30–31 [↩]
After talking about the Buddhist statue controversy at St. Mary’s South Brisbane, we were reminded of just how many similar teachings and attitudes exist between Jesus and Buddha. One of the most prominent behaviors which these two prophets share is that neither one wrote anything down. By today’s standards (where everyone seems to be writing about every triviality under the sun, and then sharing it with millions of online strangers) the idea of possessing profound wisdom but then not writing it down sounds absurd.
Why in the world did Buddha and Jesus do that? After all, it certainly would have solved a lot of headaches and conflicts had they just put their thoughts down on paper (ok, parchment).
If we return to consider the “Buddha” incident at St. Mary’s, an answer to this conundrum actually emerges. As we mentioned in our earlier post, some Christians (including a few St. Mary’s parishioners) mistakenly confused the placement of Buddhist statue with idol worship. Idol worship is something that greatly concerned Jesus and Buddha.1
Not so much the worship of golden calves or physical idols, but the far more insidious idolatry of the written word–because when words become canonized, codified, and literalized they quickly lose their transcendent, life-transforming, power. The living Word becomes dead letter scripture, which now petrified can be used to bludgeon all those who disagree.
During the 1870s, the American social reformer Robert Dale Owen eloquently stated that: “The worship of words is more pernicious than the worship of images. Grammatolatry is the worst species of idolatry. We have arrived at an era in which literalism is destroying faith “The letter killeth.”
If we were only arriving at Christianity’s destructive era in Owen’s time, then today we certainly have reached its denouement. The question that remains is whether or not from these ashes a new, brighter, Phoenix of faith will rise for Progressive Christians. If the goings-on at St. Mary’s South Brisbane are any indication, there is some reason for hope.
Gain fresh insight into the Lord’s Prayer. Read our free online book The Lord’s Prayer for Daily Life. The prayer’s hidden teachings will enrich and inspire you. Click the following link to begin reading the Living Hour book now: The Lord’s Prayer.
- Do not believe in anything because it is rumored and spoken of by many; do not think it is proof of its truth. Do not believe merely because the written statement of some old sage is produced; do not be sure that the writing has never been revised by the sage, or can be relied on – Buddha – Wheel of the Law [↩]