Friday 29 May 2020
“And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil”
4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
I’m going to start by asking you to put your thinking caps on. Can you remember an advert which came out on television in the middle of the 1980s? The camera enters a rather dark room, full of spider webs and illuminated by candles. It moves slowly towards a coffin in the centre of the room. The coffin lid rises and up pops Kenneth Williams, who is dressed up like Count Dracula, complete with white complexion and satin cloak. He holds a tempting éclair. The advertisement finishes with the narrator saying “fresh cream cakes,” to which Dracula Kenneth Williams replies “naughty, but ever so nice!”
We experience temptations of all sorts in our everyday lives, and sometimes the publicity machine does not help with them either, especially when it comes to food and drink. Who can forget the power of the Cadbury’s Caramel bunny? This is a cartoon rabbit who tries to entice you into sinking your teeth into a chocolate bar with her ‘Nigella-like’ voice!
When it comes to “lead us not into temptation”, is this the sort of thing Jesus had in mind when he prayed the words and instructed his followers to do likewise? Obviously, they did not have chocolate in Jesus’s day. I have, however, always found the line problematic: would God really want to lead us into temptation to begin with? This reminds me of the words spoken by St Augustine of Hippo: “Lord make me chaste, but not yet!” What could be going on here? What does Jesus mean?
Not surprisingly, serious theologians have wrestled with this for many hundreds of years. Some believe that Jesus was not actually referring to the here and now, but rather some time in the future. This all tied in with an apocalyptic view people had at that time. There was a belief that, just before the total victory of God and the completion of Kingdom, there would be great trials and tribulations, when evil would be intensified. The prayer, then, was for God not to bring people to this test, and that the faithful be delivered from the work of the ‘evil one’ , or Satan.
This call on God’s deliverance is not just an apocalyptic one; there is an immediacy with the Lord’s Prayer as a whole, and this line refers to the present, too. A way into this is to use the word ‘trial’ instead of ‘temptation’, which is considered to be a much better translation by many scholars. There are many trials that we experience in this world; there are situations we have to endure, not just ‘temptations.’ The world throws up problems and impediments, often when we least expect them, some of them truly terrible which might be described as evil. And so our prayer is that God not only deliver us from them, but to give us the strength, wisdom and courage to overcome the difficulties of the world. These might concern personal relationships, our communities and places of work, and even ourselves.
One great comfort is knowing that Jesus is aware of what it is like to experience the trials of this earth; he knows what evil can do. As we heard in our reading from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus was tempted by the devil, but he overcame these trials which centred on power, authority, money and pride. Even when Jesus was on the cross, hanging between those two criminals, the crowd and others called on him to come down from that wooden beam if he was truly the Son of God. “Save yourself!” Even then, Jesus endured that trial, an ultimate trial for us and for the whole of humanity. He could have ended the pain, in other words given into that ‘temptation’, but for our sakes he did not.
Our prayer is that God will give us the fortitude, guts and good judgement to battle those obstacles we meet in our everyday lives, the hindrances of the world, which will eventually be swept away when the final victory arrives and Christ returns in clouds descending!