The more we let go of the ego, the better we are able to discern the ways of God.
At the beginning of chapter 23 in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus comes down hard on the Pharisees for all of their hypocrisies. Reflecting on these condemnatory remarks that Jesus directs toward the Pharisees can help us discern where we are in our own faith journey to becoming better disciples of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
To believe in God is to know truth, for God, the Ground of Being is the source and goal of all that is true. To live out of that truth, this knowledge of God, is to live in, and out of, the attitude of humility. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Humilitas est veritas”, meaning humility is truth. Who is our model for humility? Jesus, humbled himself by letting go of divinity to become like us, human in every way but sin, who gave himself even to death, death on the cross, for the salvation of the world. Knowing this truth is why we bow before the name of Jesus in all humility. Humility is living out the deepest truth of things, that is, to know that God is God and we are not.
As we are told in Mt. 23: 2, “The scribes and Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.” The gospel message is very clear in the abstract, but it is truly hard to live it out in our daily lives, isn’t it? In our broken world, we all too often forget that we are creatures. We start to assume that we are gods, the center of the universe. This is the universal sin of the postmodern world, which is rapidly rejecting God and pridefully replacing him with the new gods of science, technology, ideologies, and absolute individualism. We must not fool ourselves here either. These things have penetrated all levels of society, and without the help of the truth of the Gospel, how can we discern the difference and stay true to God in the midst of all the chaos?
The ego is a massive monkey on our backs, and it has to be fed and pampered constantly. The Pharisees gave into the tempting addictions of power, recognition, control, and authority. But, then, they were no different than anyone else, except for their positions and privileges in Jewish culture. When we get caught up in those things and the real or perceived immediate benefits of those things, we can quickly lose sight of what is the truth, of what is right and what is wrong in every time and place.
But if we keep our eyes on Jesus, the truth, and if we commit not just to speaking of it but living it out in our daily lives, no matter the consequences, we begin to reap the true graces and blessings of real liberation. To be humble before the Lord, liberates us from the demanding tyrant of the ego. This is why humility, rather than being a degradation in the eyes of the world, is in actuality an elevation of our humanity, a drawing closer to God in truth.
We are never free from the hard work of discerning where we stand with God, in light of the truth. Using our God-given intellects, our consciences, and our will, is essential to our being able to recognize the truth through the thick fog of lies that mark our own times. And we have the means for growing in our abilities to discern the difference. We have God’s infinite love for us, we have the scriptures to contemplate, we have the habits of prayer, and we have the promise of God’s generous grace. The more we let go of the ego, and focus on the truth of God, the better we are able to discern the ways of God as opposed to the ways of the world.