Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil …
Since Easter at Virginia-Highland Church, we have been looking at the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. On Sunday, we came to the last phrase of that prayer. Two nouns: evil and temptation; two verbs: lead and deliver.
It ought to give us pause to think God might lead us into temptation, but if we need support for this idea we need only look at the story of Jesus’ baptism. Both Matthew and Luke say that, following his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted by the devil. Mark’s Gospel says, even more strongly, that the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert to be tempted.
So, what are we to think about this God who sets us up to be tempted?
When we hear the word “temptation” we generally think about being enticed to do something wrong or evil, but that isn’t what Jesus is talking about here. The word that Jesus uses also can mean “testing.” Think of tempering steel.
It isn’t an enticement to do evil that Jesus is suggesting we should pray to avoid; it is that our souls might not have to endure the fire of testing … and who doesn’t like to avoid tests?!? I loved it when professors said you didn’t have to take the final if you had a 3.5 grade point average or above. I wonder if Jesus might have had something like that in mind.
Is it possible to live with such honor and integrity that we don’t need to be tested by life? There are no guarantees. Jesus was sorely tested, but perhaps there are some tests we can avoid.
I don’t know about you, but the older I get the bigger something has to be to really test me. Oh, traffic still aggravates me, and I hate long lines at the airport. Stupid politicians have made me become fluent in sarcasm, but it takes a REALLY major test to make me unhappy for more than a little while.
On the other hand, it is true that, as we age, our bodies begin to show wear and tear. Those we love also age, and, ultimately, they leave this world physically. We all begin to lose some of our optimism and naivete as we see how unfair life can be. The tests, trials, and temptations of life have taken on different meanings for me. There are many we cannot avoid, but perhaps Jesus is teaching us to pray, and maybe to live, in such a way that lesser things in life are not such a trial for us and we can save our energy for the real trials when they come.
Rev. Michael Piazza