To me, this Gospel speaks to the roots of Christian Contemplative understanding of the True Self and false self. The True Self is our identity in God ("Where we are from") and our false self is the identity we adopt and create as part of the experience of living and surviving in the world.
I believe that one of Thomas Merton's greatest contributions to modern Christian Spirituality has been the understanding he developed around the True Self/false self. In New Seeds of Contemplation, Merton describes the false self as "an illusory person... the (person) I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him... My false and private self is one who wants to exist outside the reach of God's will and God's love... And such a self cannot help but be an illusion." (p 34)
Merton further writes: "We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves... For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin. All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real." (pp. 34 - 35)
Merton proceeds to then unveil the True Self: "The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God. But whatever is in God is really identical to Him, for His infinite simplicity admits no division and no distinction. Therefore I cannot hope to find myself anywhere except in Him... Therefore, there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my True Self I will find Him." (pp 35 - 36)
In a fashion similar to the Gospel, Merton states how hard this is: "But although this looks simple, it is in reality, immensely difficult. In fact, if I am left to myself it will be utterly impossible... This is something that no man can ever do alone... The only One Who can teach me to find God is God, Himself, Alone." (p. 36)
Tying it all together Merton writes: "God utters me like a word containing a partial thought of Himself... if I am true to the thought of Him I was meant to embody, I shall be full of His actuality and find Him everywhere in myself, and find myself nowhere. I shall be lost in Him: that is, I shall find myself. I shall be 'saved.' ... We must be saved from immersion in the sea of lies and passions which is called 'the world.' And we must be saved above all from that abyss of confusion and absurdity which is our own worldly self... The free son (or daughter) of God must be saved from the conformist slave of fantasy, passion and convention. The creative and mysterious inner self must be delivered from the wasteful, hedonistic and destructive ego that seeks only to cover itself with disguises.... To be 'saved' is to return to one's inviolate and eternal reality and to live in God" (pp. 37-38)
Merton then leaves us with his guidance: "'Finding God' means much more than just abandoning all things that are not God, and emptying oneself of images and desires... No natural exercise can bring you into vital contact with Him. Unless He utters Himself in you, speaks His own name in the center of your soul, you will no more know Him than a stone knows the ground upon which it rests in it inertia. Our discovery of God is, in a way God's discovery of us... We only know Him in so far as we are known by Him, and our contemplation of Him is a participation in His contemplation of Himself. We become contemplatives when God discovers Himself in us.... God Himself, bearing in Himself the secret of who I am, begins to live in me not only as my Creator but as my other and True Self... ('I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me.')" (pp. 39 - 41)
Now I'm going to try to make some further sense out of this as I relate it to Luke's Gospel.
As I've come to understand it, the primarily focus of our ego and the forces that create the false self (Keating does a good job at going into more depth on this in the Human Condition) are for the purpose of our survival and happiness as individuals. The problems we face lie in the fact that we've learned to focus on living out of our false selves in an exaggerated manner. By doing so, we lose awareness of our True Self, the place of our underlying genuineness, of our connectedness to God and with others. Living out of the false self becomes a self-perpetuating and endless cycle; the more exaggerated our false self becomes, the more we focus on our on ourselves and soon it seems that our very survival is dependent on increasing the importance and satisfaction of our false self needs. As Merton observes: "Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real." Operating out of our false self leads to selfishness and we take actions at the expense of others which serves to further alienate us from our True Selves by creating our shadow, those things that we begin to deny and hide about ourselves. As Merton writes: "A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin."
Merton makes it clear that finding the True Self is "something that no (one) can ever do alone." He hints at the process by saying that "Our discovery of God is, in a way, God's discovery of us."
So do we just wait passively and hope for God to acts? I don't believe so and feel that Merton's own insight guide us to what's required: "the secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God." It's been my understanding and experience that the best way to foster God's discovery of us is to open ourselves to share in God's love and mercy, first and foremost for ourselves. I experience this as being open to genuine self-compassion and self-acceptance of the totality of who I am and what I've done including those parts of myself I'd rather keep hidden. This is an extremely difficult, ongoing process and that's why few undertake it (Luke's Gospel refers to it as "entering through the narrow gate"). I've found that this is only possible by opening to God's assistance and, in doing so, opening up to the discovery of God's compassion. I'm finding that as I strive to accept my selfishness and my shadow, that my false self diminishes as I begin to recognize it for what it is. When I no longer need to hide from or justify my false self and can accept my own shadow, then I'm "saved" from living out of illusion and become free to live out of my True Self and in so doing encounter God in me. This feels to me like a life-long process which I also find Merton commenting on in his Journal:
Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself, and if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself. - Journal Entry October 2,1958
Tying together my Contemplative understanding of Merton's insights on false self / True Self allow me to read this Gospel as:
Strive to live the difficult process of facing and letting go of your false self. Many take the easy route of clinging to the worldly illusions of the false self which can only lead to misery. Start by facing and accepting your false self with God's love and mercy and gradually its needs will diminish and you will be saved as you genuinely encounter God in your True Self. Your True Self is from God and so can know Him. Your false self is something separately created and despite the actions it takes, cannot genuinely know God. The false self's search to know God will ultimately end up in frustration... It is easiest for those who are not so successful or invested in this world to find their True Selves for their false selves are easier to let go of.