Last week, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, suggested the rewording of the Lord’s Prayer which really means a re-translation of the words that we say, “Lead us not into temptation.” We understand the Lord’s Prayer as the summary of the whole Gospel. It is the prayer that Jesus, Himself, taught us; however, most probably these words were spoken in the ancient Aramaic every-day language of Jesus. But in the translation of the New Testament into Greek and then subsequently into Latin, perhaps the real meaning of these words was missed. I would think that most people do not believe that God is “leading us into temptation.”
This petition of the Our Father truly could use some explanation. We are not asking the Lord not to put us to the test, or to lead us not into temptation. In the First Letter of James, we hear that we are not tempted by the actions of God. Rather, we are tempted by the work of the evil one, the Devil. There is a Jewish prayer from the Old Testament by tradition which says, “Lead my foot not into the power of the sin, and bring me not into the power of inequity, and not into the power of temptation, and not into the power of anything shameful.” This Old Testament prayer reminds us that we can be led into temptation. The fact is, we often lead ourselves into temptation. It is not God who leads us into temptation. We recognize that the responsibility for fleeing from temptation is ours. Truly, we seek God’s help that we do not succumb to temptation.
There is a difference between a test and temptation. A test should be a positive experience, believe it or not. Sometimes when we are tested by our teachers, they try to catch us to find out what we do not know. The best tests, however, are those which tell us what we do know. St. Augustine has something to say about this when he says that someone who is not tempted is not tested and, therefore, one who is not tested makes no progress. All of the tests that we have in life are meant to show us how much progress we have made.
Temptation, however, is something different. Temptation is an enticement into evil, it is negative, it is a seduction into sin; it is the result of evil personified.
We can recall the temptations of Jesus at the beginning of His public life. He underwent three temptations; being led into the desert by the Devil not to show that He was strong, but to show us that we too can be tempted. But with the grace of God we too can escape temptation. In the Old Testament, we remember the example of Job who was led into temptation by Satan, but God seemed to allow Job to be tested so that he could be found worthy, worthy of being reinstated to where he was in the past. Although he suffered much, the temptation came as a test,which he passed. Job did not rail against God, but rather he continually sought the mercy and forgiveness of God.
How important it is that we recognize doing God’s will is what we pray for in the beginning of the Our Father, which also helps us to understand this petition. Tertullian tells us, “Pray not to be led into temptation, pray to be delivered, delivered from the temptation that seems to overcome us which we cannot overcome on our own.”
How important it is that when we pray the Our Father we pray with the confidence of God’s children. We recognize that God is our Father, we pray for the most important things of life; for our daily bread, for deliverance from evil and the ability to forgive.
Several years ago, I read this explanation of the Our Father, which is helpful as we continue our Advent journey and prepare to welcome the newborn infant Jesus into our lives and into our world. If an infant were able to pray and if that infant had the ability to intercede with its mother, what would it ask for? The infant would ask for three things, they are the same three things that we ask for in the Our Father. First, the baby would say feed me. Do we not ask for our daily bread? Then the baby would say change me, keep me clean. In other words, forgive me. And then, most of all, the baby would say to its mother do not drop me, lead me not into danger. This is what we pray for in the petitions of the Our Father. We must learn to pray as infants before God our Father, asking for the most important things that will enable us to flee evil and temptation as we find evil in our daily lives.
Each time we say the Our Father, sometimes in haste and sometimes without great recollection, we are praying the words that Jesus, Himself, gave to us. We put out into the deep mystery of our relationship to God, who is Father to us all. We must pray as if we were infants dependent on their mothers and fathers to give them everything they need, to protect them, to enable them to reach maturity. As we come yet closer to Christmas, we ask the Lord to give us that spiritual maturity, to recognize that in the birth of Jesus as an infant we come to understand better our dependency upon God who is our Father.