Saturday, 21 March 2015

Power of Choice


Here we are, coming to the conclusion of our Lenten journey and this journey through the Lord's Prayer.  Conclusion's not really the right word here, is it?  The journey continues on, of course, it's just this part that's finding itself at an end.  Though not an end, either, really, because the experience and thought hopefully inform our way forward, adding wisdom to the journey that continues.

Yes, I know that sounds all very abstract and philosophical, but the point of pondering the Lord's Prayer, the point of praying the Lord's Prayer, is really that: it's a living prayer that moves us forward on our journey.

Beyond our sharing of a communal prayer, the Lord's Prayer engages us with the key themes of Jesus' life and ministry.  That's why, as I've said before, it's a living prayer and requires our participation in relationship with God.

I've also suggested that, while it's important to know the original context and how the first hearers of Jesus' words might have understood them, we all come to the Lord's Prayer with our own lenses, our own ways of seeing and understanding and living that's based on our experience and our context.

Most recently, I've also suggested that living out this prayer in our lives isn't always easy.  But it is the journey we're on, the journey that, when we try to live as Jesus taught, brings us closer to God.

Now, much of that might sound like the opening moments of your favourite tv show when the announcer says "previously on …" but it serves the same purpose: not just to remind you of what's happened before, but to frame what's about to.

"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."  That's the way we most often recite it, but there's a variety of interpretations of the language used in Matthew and Luke, centring on the words we say as temptation and evil.  The ancient Greek word "peirasmos" has a variety of meanings and could be temptation or trial or testing.  It's the same word used by Matthew when Jesus goes into the wilderness and when Jesus prays in Gethsemane.  The word for evil could be translated just as evil or as the evil one.  So how specific do we think Jesus is being?  Is it about a specific temptation or test and a certain evil or a more general context of the world around us?

I think this is one of those moments when the answer is simply "yes."  It is both and all.  This is a moment for our discernment with our own lenses, both personal and communal.  Our lives include an almost constant presence of temptation.  It's part of our decision making process that requires choice and choosing for what is right, true and good, just as those moments we feel are a test or a trial.  We have free will.  Even when confronted with what we understand as evil, we still need to make a choice.

Sometimes we think it's easier to make a choice if we can name evil.   So we call it the devil, for example, or an evil spirit, thinking that somehow, when we name it, it is easier to address.  But is it easier?  When we put a label on something, we often don't look any deeper - we think we already know what it is.  Just as we need to discern our relationship with God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit, we need to discern what is true when we make choices, from the routine to the complex.  Sometimes our life experience makes that a challenge.  Sometimes, evil - the antithesis of good - makes that a challenge.

Again, our participation is required.  I think that it's not about God leading us or not leading us to the temptation or rescuing us from evil, it's about God accompanying us through.  I don't believe that God tempts or tests.  I don't believe that God is about that kind of power.  And power is something that's important to us.

I mentioned earlier that "peirasmos" is the same word used in Matthew's telling of Jesus being tested by the devil (or the personification of evil) in the wilderness.  But what's that story of testing really about?  Isn't it really about power and who has it?  "The devil" tempts Jesus to exercise power over things, only to find that Jesus "full of the Holy Spirit" (Luke 4:1) chooses another power, one that is true and life-giving.

The power of God is love.  And that's not a power over or a power to control, it's a power with, a power to be shared.  We should pray for that.