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 [↩]
Gospel of Mark 5
And they came to the other side of the sea—the country of the Gerasenes; 2 And, as soon as Jesus had got out of the boat, he met a man coming out of the tombs, who was under the power of a foul spirit, 3 And who made his home in the tombs. No one had ever been able to secure him, even with a chain; 4 For, though he had many times been left secured with fetters and chains, he had snapped the chains and broken the fetters to pieces, and no one could master him. 5 Night and day alike, he was continually shrieking in the tombs and among the hills, and cutting himself with stones.
6 Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed to the ground before him, 7 Shrieking out in a loud voice: “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the most high God? For God’s sake do not torment me!” 8 For Jesus had said: “Come out from the man, you foul spirit.” 9 And he asked him: “What is your name?” “My name is legion,” he said, “for there are many of us;” 10 and he begged Jesus again and again not to send them away out of that country.
11 There was a large drove of pigs close by, feeding on the hill-side. 12 And the spirits begged Jesus: “Send us into the pigs, that we may take possession of them.” 13 Jesus gave them leave. They came out, and entered into the pigs; and the drove—about two thousand in number—rushed down the steep slope into the sea and were drowned in the sea. 14 On this the men who tended them ran away, and carried the news to the town, and to the country round; and the people went to see what had happened.
15 When they came to Jesus, they found the possessed man sitting there, clothed and in his right mind—the very man who had had the ‘legion’ in him—and they were awe-struck. 16 Then those who had seen it related to them all that had happened to the possessed man, as well as about the pigs; 17 Upon which they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.
18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the possessed man begged him to let him stay with him. 19 But Jesus refused. “Go back to your home, to your own people,” he said, “and tell them of all that the Lord has done for you, and how he took pity on you.” 20 So the man went, and began to proclaim in the district of the ten towns all that Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
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