And lead us not into temptation

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When Jesus taught us to pray, he provided some words that captured the simplicity of language His Father would respond to.

            Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us the wrong we have done as we forgive those who wrong us.  Subject us not to the trial but deliver us from the evil one. [Mt 6, 9 – 13, The New American Bible, Saint Joseph Edition, 1970]

As Christians developed formal prayers, these words of Jesus became

            Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but, deliver us from evil. Amen

The Judeo-Christian tradition of being challenged by the Father is accurately expressed in the words “and lead us not into temptation.” The Catholic Church has preserved that tradition as a symbol of the benevolent Father teaching his children. Let’s consider a few biblical examples of that tradition. The temptation to abandon God is the focus of all three examples.

Temptation of Jesus in the Desert

            Then Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. [Mt 4, 1, The New American Bible, Saint Joseph Edition, 1970]

The forty days of temptation was initiated by God: Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit. The devil provided the actual temptations, but God the Father directed the Son through the Holy Spirit.

During this temptation period, Jesus was challenged to use his divine connections for food and safety. When he refused, the devil, in desperation, tempted Jesus to betray God and worship him, the devil. Jesus, as man, refused to give in to any of these temptations. At that, the devil left him, and angels came and waited on him. [Mt 4, 11]

This lesson of being tested, remaining loyal, and being cared for by a benevolent Father is the heart and soul of Jesus words: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. They represent a humble trust in God that anyone who follows Jesus must embrace if they want to be called brother or sister to Jesus.

Job, God, and the Devil

And the Lord said to Satan “Have you noticed mt servant Job and that there is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil?” But Satan answered the Lord and said “Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing? Have you not surrounded him and his family and all that he has with your protection? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land. But now put forth your hand and touch anything he has, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord. [Jb 1, 8 – 12]    

The story of Job is a powerful testimony of loyalty and love of for God in the face of extreme challenges by God. Again, as with Jesus, the devil does the tempting in an effort to get the believer, Job, to betray God.

The tradition of explaining extreme hardships in life as originating with God is spread throughout the Old Testament. But Job’s situation is presented as devastating for any normal person. The loss of family, wealth, and worldly position were the fear of every man, and woman, throughout the old testament. The belief that worldly prosperity reflected favor with God was part of their culture. If they lost any of it, they clearly had lost favor with God.

But as Jesus remained loyal in the desert, Job remained loyal in his trials. And God expressed his love for Job; Also, the Lord restored the prosperity of Job, after he had prayed for his friends; the Lord even gave Job twice as much as he had before. [Jb 42, 10]

Abraham’s Test

            Some time after these events, God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, “Abraham!” “Ready!” he replied. Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.” [Gn 22, 1 – 2]

This story reflects a personal challenge comparable to the temptation of Jesus in the desert.

Sarah had been unable to bear a son for Abraham. This inability to provide progeny would deny a father his legacy in the world. Nothing was of greater value to the men of the Old Testament than sons to preserve the family name.

When God graced Abraham and Sarah with Isaac, the future was bright. But then God challenges Abraham to sacrifice his son as a holocaust offering to Him.

As a father, I cannot imagine a more painful temptation to deny God’s request. A father’s love for his son is worthy of any sacrifice, including eternal damnation. But Abraham is not your average father. He appreciates the gift of Isaac from God and does not hesitate to obey Him.

Abraham doesn’t agree to do this with the expectation that God will spare him this sacrifice (neither did Job or Jesus). Abraham simply obeyed God.

Again, God demonstrates His love by stopping Abraham when he and Isaac arrive at the holocaust site. “Abraham, Abraham!” “Yes Lord”, he answered. Do not lay your hand on the boy, said the messenger. Do not do the least thing to him. I know now ho devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” [Gn 22, 11 – 12]

“Do not let us fall into temptation”

It is unfortunate that Pope Francis has endorsed this change in the Our Father/The Lord’s Prayer. This new language totally betrays the strong Judeo-Christian culture of the benevolent Father. It panders to Catholics who prefer a personal god who always makes them feel good. God would never challenge them to confront temptations. If he is a loving god, as they define love, he will always shield them from temptations. (Or perhaps they feel that God should embrace their sinfulness as virtue and eliminate any memory of sin and temptation.)

Ultimately, this change reflects the voice of victims: “It’s not my fault. I can’t control anything. It’s God’s fault if I am tempted and if I sin.” They refuse to embrace the hardship of personal responsibility by acknowledging sin and accepting fault for their sins.

I’ll close this with a prayer from the book of Sirach. I say this prayer every day during my morning prayers.

Who will set a guard over my mouth,
and upon my lips an effective seal,
That I may not fail through them,
that my tongue may not destroy me?
Lord Father and Master of my life,
permit me not to fall by them!
Who will apply the lash to my thoughts,
to my mind the rod of discipline,
That my failings may not be spared,
nor the sins of my heart overlooked;
Lest my failings increase,
and my sins be multiplied;
Lest I succumb to my foes,
and my enemy rejoice over me?
Lord, Father and God of my life,
abandon me not into their control!
A brazen look allow me not;
ward off passion from my heart,
Let not the lustful cravings of the flesh master me,
surrender me not to shameless desires.
            [Sir 22, 27 – 23, 6]

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