“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
I have often pondered over the meaning of those final words in the Lord’s Prayer and I want to pay some attention to them with you today.
Throughout the centuries there has been any number of translations of the original Hebrew words that Jesus used when He taught the Lord’s Prayer. For instance, most of the original translations did not say “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Instead the phrase was translated as, “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” By the way, as an aside, just when or why the word “trespass” was substituted for the word “sin” is unknown to me. As for the phrase “but deliver us from evil” other ancient translations render it as: “And deliver us from the time of trial.” Still others render it “deliver us from the time of testing.”
That being the case, I want to pay some attention now to the time of trial or testing Jesus endured out in the desert when Satan, our Ancient Enemy, the Evil One, put Jesus to test with those three major temptations in Matthew’s Gospel (4:1-11) account.
We should note that it was not God our Father who was testing Jesus. No, it was Lucifer.
Why would God want to “test” His Only-begotten Son?” He knew all along what was in His Son’s heart and soul. The Devil, of course, did not and so was testing Jesus who was out there in the desert in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the Devil who was doing the testing.
Satan claims that the world and all that’s in it belongs to him and is in his power. “I will give them to you,” he exclaims to Jesus, “if you worship me and acknowledge my power.” Note that he is setting himself up as God’s equal. This echoes the Serpent’s original seductive temptation offered to Adam and Eve, “Eat of this fruit and you will be as God!” From the beginning the Devil has been at work testing God’s work in his efforts to ruin God’s creations.
God, in His complete freedom, could I suppose “test” us. Lots of people think of God that way. Many times, when we face trials, troubles, and suffering we immediately tell ourselves “God is testing me.” Or in times of suffering we tell others “God is testing you.” While that might be so, it’s usually a facile response that short-circuits a more insightful awareness.
Many trials and troubles beset us, not only in our lifetimes but daily. What or who causes them? Each and every day people will “test our limits.” How often is your patience tested? And who is testing the boundaries of your patience… of your love? You find yourself tested, tempted to anger and impatience, by members of your own family in your own home. Your children can test your limits. Your loyalty and patience are tried and tested in your place of work. We can easily see that while events and chance occurrences can test you and me, there is no greater testing than that which comes to you from other people.
Many such moments of trial and testing come to each one of us in each and every day of our lives. Which, perhaps, is why Jesus teaches us to ask for our daily bread, to ask for that heavenly sustenance that gives strength to our souls as we face the trials of our days.
Good people face suffering from others and are tested by others. In all such moments we are given opportunities… opportunities that are hidden gifts within those trials. The highest and best opportunity in every such trial is to enter into the heart of Jesus. St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews wrote of Christ, “…because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”
God came to Moses on top of Mt. Sinai. Jesus taught His Beatitudes from the top of a mountain and He was transfigured on top of Mt. Tabor. Satan, in his arrogance, takes Jesus to the top of a high mountain, shows Him all of the kingdoms of this world, and then tests Him, tempts Him, to be a Messiah other than what God our Father sent Him to be for us. Satan tempts Jesus to be a false Messiah.
The Lord’s Prayer is composed in the plural, not the singular. It addresses our Father. It asks God to give us our daily bread. In all of this we need to realize that we are also collectively tested, tried, and tempted. We are tested as a nation of people. We were tested when we underwent the trial of the Civil War. World Wars, and may other wars besides, have tested and will continue to test our national resolve, our American ideals, our intentions and purposes in entering into conflicts, as well as how we conduct ourselves in them. Today our war against terrorism is testing our national soul.
Both individually and collectively our limits are being tested. Our resources, our civil liberties, our commitments to freedom, our adherence to the rule of law, and our faith in God are all being tested and put to trial. Do we respond to evil in the way that Jesus responded to Satan? Upon what are our responses based? In response to the Tempter, Jesus turned to His Father in heaven. Satan was offering Jesus an easy, spectacular, superficial and dazzling way of life. Jesus’ response was to remain faithful to His Father’s will.
Satan is also known as the Great Seducer, the one who seeks to remain in power and control by capitalizing on our human weakness. He hides his real agenda, his lust for power, behind our human weakness. “Oh, everybody’s doing it, so I can do it” is the sentiment that Lucifer puts deep within us all. But what about being faithful to what is right no matter how many people don’t care about what is right? The kingdom, the power, and the glory belong to God… Jesus knew that and remained faithful to that. In Christ’s humility Satan’s pride was overcome.
Christ knows full well what’s deep within the human heart. He knows how easily we can be swayed and how powerfully the “easy way” tempts us. When, therefore, we are beset by trials and sufferings, when we are tempted to try any way but God’s way, we need to keep focused and to turn to our Higher Power, the powerful love of God.
May this holy season of Lent be an opportunity for you and me to take stock of what’s in our souls, to see what we’re really made of, to get in touch once again with God’s powerful Holy Spirit who abides within us, and then face life with all of life’s trials, temptations, and testings, nourished as we are by the Living Bread God puts here on our table for us each and every day.
Deliver us from evil, O Lord. But most of all, deliver us from our selves… for we do not belong to this world, or to the Great Seducer who roams through this world, or even to our selves. We are Christ’s, and Christ is yours, O Father in heaven.