Thursday 10 November 2022

Just What Do You Mean By That?

"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." That's the way we most often recite it, likely because we memorized the Lord’s Prayer in Sunday School. It’s still the most common version, but as we see more contemporary translations of the original text in the Gospel of Matthew, and new ways of expressing the prayer itself, there are more opportunities to ponder what Jesus might have meant here. And what we mean, when we pray it.

Pope Francis weighed in back in 2019, approving a change to the Lord’s Prayer that would reword "lead us not into temptation" to "do not let us fall into temptation." The Pope found that there was the inference that God would, perhaps, intentionally lead us into temptation. The Pope feels God wouldn’t do that.

Roman Catholics worldwide are still working their way through it. There’s resistance, as you can imagine, both from those who feel anchored in the traditional words and scholars who debate the accuracy of literal translation versus understanding. Some also suggest that there are instances in Hebrew scripture when God does use temptation. And then there’s the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. I’ll come back to that.

While we’re talking about accuracy of translation, it’s not just the leading part, either, it’s the “temptation” and the “evil.”

The ancient Greek word used, “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, a generic evil or a specific entity. 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’m not a qualified biblical scholar or linguist and I’m not the Pope, but 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 - as 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 Jesus finding what’s true in himself? Isn't it 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, one that is true to the good that is in himself.

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.