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The Lord's Prayer: 'And lead us not into temptation'.

Friday, November 07, 2014
'The Temptations of Christ' 12th Century mosaic in St Mark's Basilica, Venice, Italy. 

The life of Jesus shows us that victory in the battle of temptation can become possible only through prayer. The 'Our Father' therefore becomes a tool against sin, which results from our consenting to temptation.

We must not forget then that these are the words Jesus gives us, 'Lead us not into temptation'. By asking the Father not to 'lead' us into temptation we are asking a twofold reality to come about: both 'do not allow us to enter into temptation' and 'do not let us yield to temptation'. The letter of James reminds us that 'God cannot be tempted and he himself tempts no one' (1:13). God wills for us to be free from evil. It is our own desire that allows temptation to surface, therefore we ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin.

But are we supported when we ask him to lead us away from being tempted?

Yes. This petition we ask, has a beautiful thread woven in that is subtle, yet strong. We, in the words Jesus gives,  implore the Holy Spirit for discernment and strength.

The Holy Spirit enables us to discern when adversity and trials arise, which in of themselves are in fact necessary for the growth of our inner being. In this discernment we are able to see the differences between 'being tempted' and 'consenting to temptation'. We only desire what appears to be good, the Holy Spirit's gift of discernment allows us to have a reality check. Is what we perceive to be a 'delight to the eye and desirable', actually the opposite, and in reality its fruit is sin, which leads to death. This power of discernment given is not a gloomy reality, it is a way in which the believer is both empowered and transformed joyfully as they journey through life.

Manuscript depicting Origen of Alexandria. 
Origen writes: 
God does not want to impose the good, but wants free beings... There is a certain usefulness to temptation. No one but God knows what our soul has received from him, not even we ourselves. But temptation reveals it in order to teach us to know ourselves, and in this way we discover our evil inclinations and are obliged to give thanks for the goods that temptation has revealed to us'
(De Orationis 29).

The plea therefore, 'Lead us not into temptation' from this most powerful of prayers, implies that we need to make a decision of the heart with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. One of my favourite lines from scripture, which is sung in my weekly prayer, sums up this reality so accurately, 'For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also'. Mt 6:21.

But if the feeling of temptation is too much for me, why does a loving God the Father enable me to feel weighed down with temptation? Again we must remind ourselves what Scripture says... 'No testing has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, so that you may be able to endure it' (1 Cor 10:13).

The Temptation of Thomas Aquinas.

'We do not pray to change the divine decree, but only to obtain what God has decided will be obtained through prayer'. St Thomas Aquinas - Summa Theologiae. 

It is by his prayer that Jesus vanquishes the tempter, both at the outset of his public mission (see mosaic at the top of this post) and in the completing action and struggle of his agony on the cross. In this divine instructive prayer of the 'Our Father' then, Christ unites us with his battle and his agony. He encourages us to be in vigilant communion with his heart. Also, we cannot ignore the collective pro noun here, the word.. 'us' lead... 'us'.  Jesus is teaching us to pray this not only for ourselves, but that of the whole Church. United in his words to the Father, 'keep them in your name'. We are never alone in the battle of prayer over temptation, feel supported when next saying this line in the 'Our Father', that all those saying it are saying it for you and themselves, just as Jesus did, and as we will, in our last temptation of our earthly battle. When praying this line therefore we are ultimately asking for our final perseverance.    

'Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake' (Rev 16:15).


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