Years ago, my wife Kathleen stared in a commercial for a burger chain called Jack in the Box. Each commercial always featured the character Jack – a normal guy that just so happens to have a giant ping-pong ball for a head. The guy who created this character also wrote, directed and did the voice of Jack in every commercial. Rumor had it he would have played Jack, but his ego was too big to fit into the costume. Ergo the ego.
In the late 1800’s Sigmund Freud made the word “ego” commonplace in the world of psychology. Today, it’s still a part of our lexicon used to describe a person’s conscious mind – that part of us we identity as our "self." These days, the word is often seen as a negative connotation; like egocentric, egomaniac, and ego trip. But actually ego has both positive and negative aspects.
For example a person with a strong ego could be someone who has “a healthy and strong sense of self that allows him or her to instantly access an inner truth in any given situation.” These are often traits of business leaders and mavericks. Yet a person with a strong ego could also be someone who is “narrow-minded, arrogantly self-centered, and unable or unwilling to be humbled. He or she always has to be right. And any contradictory perspective is always wrong.” The traits of someone who goes into politics.
As you begin your self-exploration in Lent, there’s a good chance your ego will be put to the test. You will either emerge with a stronger sense of our self, or you will throw your hat in the ring of people running for president in 2020.
On the first week of Lent, we always read one of the three gospel stories of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness – each on the heels of Jesus’ baptism. Today our message comes from Luke 4:1-13.
READ PASSAGE HERE
Every time I read this passage, I am left with giant head full of questions. The obvious being why on earth would God deliberately send Jesus out to be tempted by the devil? Does God try to trap us? Isn’t the Holy Spirit supposed to protect us from stuff like this and not lead us into it? And why is God in cahoots with the devil anyway, aren’t they mortal enemies? More importantly, exactly who or what is the devil?
If we believe God created all thing and declared them good, does that include the Devil? If so, does that mean there’s a flaw in God’s design? Or is the flaw in us? See how the questions just keep coming? Ergo the ego…we always need to know the answer to God’s mysteries.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of theories about the devil, but none that have convinced me it’s some guy in a red suit holding a pitchfork. After years of thinking about all this…I too have developed my own theory (and that's all it is my egotistical theory). I believe this thing we also call the tempter is nothing more than our ego. After all, it’s one thing all humans have, including Jesus.
God gives us our conscious self to help us survive, and to flourish, and evolve in this wilderness we call life. It’s a good thing, until it’s not. Our egos can push us to create wonderful ideas, amazing music and beautiful art that inspires others to do the same.
But it can also push us to hurt someone who disagrees with us, or cause us to blame others when life doesn’t go our way.
Take Adam and Eve for example. God gave them a conscious and commands them to use it to multiply and create. When they are caught disobeying God’s command to not eat from this one particular tree, Adam immediately blamed Eve. And Eve quickly blamed who? The serpent or the devil. Having something to blame is easier than bearing our own wrong-doing. Ergo the ego.
So, for sake of argument, let’s take Luke’s story and replace the word devil with the word ego, and you’ll see how we all fall short of God’s glory. All of us…but one…Jesus.
Luke writes, “Full of the Holy Spirit Jesus was led by the same Spirit to be tempted for 40 days by the “Ego.” Without the ability to shift blame on something else, neither the devil or the Holy Spirit can be blamed for leading us into temptation.
The way I see it is that God’s Spirit guides Jesus to a place where he confronts his humanness in order to find and embrace his Divine nature. This tells me that God guides us also to places to discover who we are and what we are called to do. But it’s up to each one of us to either to shift our self towards God’s will, or go into politics.
While Jesus is out there what does he do? He begins to fast – a Jewish ritual of “self denial” that prepare one’s self to stand before God in repentance and atonement. I don’t know if Jesus needed to do either of these things, but in this sacred action we learn how to humbly set aside our needs, putting God’s will above our own. But the ego is crafty. It knows when we are our most vulnerable and hungry. It tempts Jesus to “command these stones to become bread.” The ego desires to be in control and to command others to do what we want? Quoting from Deuteronomy Jesus reminds us that it takes more than food to really live. It takes faith in God’s word.
Tapping into our human desire for power, the “Ego” tempts Jesus again by telling him, “The whole world will be yours if only you bow down and worship me.” But Jesus knows better. He knows God’s word is true, and all the power in this little planet doesn’t come close to the glory God has in store for us.
Jesus had the power to turn stones into bread. He had to power to command the people flocking to him, to bow down and worship him. But he doesn’t act on his power. Instead Jesus lives in God’s word, and reminds the “Ego” that all glory and all power is God’s.
Our ego was given to help us create and flourish in God’s love for us. But eventually we all have to make the choice: You can follow your ego’s love of self, or follow the way of Jesus, the perfect manifestation of God’s divine love given to you. To follow Jesus means to always cling to God’s Word and be mindful of what God is saying because the “Ego” will tempt our faith, and even use God’s own words to do so.
In its final attempt, the “Ego” meets Jesus at the top of the Temple, and said, “If you really believe you’re the Son of God, then jump. And if God’s word is true then angels will intervene and you won’t so much as stub your toe.” With great faith, Jesus fires back, “It is also written, ‘Do not dare tempt the Lord your God.’”
Jesus knows the power he possesses. He knows what he can do as a human. But he also understands the power of God’s word and how much more he can do by humbly giving his whole self, including his ego, to God. Ergo our ego too.
This is important, because the game is not over. Luke ends the passage with a cryptic message. “The Ego left Jesus until an opportune time.” In other words, your ego is always with you, lying in wait for another opportunity to win you over.
Therefore it’s not enough to simply fast during Lent. We need to be constantly grounded in God’s Word daily, and be mindful always of what God is calling us to do. This was the way of Jesus, who overcame the temptation of his human self. And found his Divine truth. By seeing and doing what Jesus does we too can learn how to do God’s will and teach others to truly flourish in God’s glory.
In John’s gospel Jesus said, “I am the way.” I don’t think he meant it as an arrogantly self-centered egotistical statement. Instead I believe Jesus is drawing us into his inner being, his true self. He is inviting us to practice his way, the way that humbly leads us to a true relationship with God.
The way of Jesus is self-denying your hunger and desire for power and control, it puts God and other’s first, and love at the beginning of every encounter you have. By following the way of Jesus, is to live faithfully in God’s words where you find your way through the challenges we all face in the wilderness of life. By being grounded in him, the living Word of God, we are able to overcome the temptations that wait to trap us.
Whether you are an advertising executive, a business maverick, a student or the president of a large country, Jesus is the way of life where the Word of God speaks louder than the egotistical voice inside each one of our heads.
Ergo the ego is always where it was created and meant to be…in God’s divine self.
Mamas, Michael. Ego. Is Bigger Better? https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/281170 Sept. 19, 2016. (accessed: March 7, 2019)
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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