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Posted on 03/10/2006 8:33:19 AM PST by Salvation
The Lord's Prayer is like a marathon course whose last mile winds up a steep hill. Or it's like a Himalayan mountain whose ultimate peak crowns a sheer, vertical rock face.
We approach the end of the Our Father, and still we face the petition that has proven a stumbling block to many great minds in Christian history. The psychoanalyst C.G. Jung's misinterpretation of this petition was a major factor in his break with orthodox Christianity. He cited Jesus' words as evidence that God is not merely "love and goodness," but also "the tempter and destroyer."1
Why, after all, would God lead us into temptation? When the Scriptures speak of a "tempter," they always mean the devil (cf. Mt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5). Temptation is the hallmark of Satan's action in our lives. Why, then, are we praying that God "Our Father . . . in heaven" will not lead us into temptation?
God Does Not Tempt
We must read Jesus' words with utmost care, for He chose them with a precision that is perfect and all-knowing.
The Lord's Prayer is not the only time Jesus directed His followers to pray against temptation. Twice in the Garden of Gethsemane, He urged the apostles: "Pray that you may not enter into temptation. . . . Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Lk. 22:40, 46).
We may conclude, then, that temptations are something to be strenuously avoided. However, Jesus also said that temptations are inevitable: "For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!" (Mt. 18:7). It is clear, in this last context, that God is not the originator of temptations. God does not tempt us. "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one" (Jas. 1:13). But temptations do come from our fellow men, as Jesus implies above; from the devil, as we see in Jesus' encounter with Satan in the desert (cf. Mt. 4:1-11); and from adverse circumstances in life, such as physical illness, failure, or humiliation.
God does not will our pain; nor does He will the sins of others, which cause us pain. Suffering and death came into the world as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve. Yet God's will is accomplished in spite of these things; and He has ordained every occasion of temptation to be an occasion of grace as well. It all turns on how we respond.
This is a subtle matter, but a very important one, and it is easy to see how it has scandalized even great minds such as Jung's for it involves the cooperation of God's omnipotent will and our human freedom.
God did not force Adam and Eve to love or obey Him. He allowed them a choice. He placed them in a garden full of delights and invited them to partake of any tree but one. "[O]f the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat," God commanded, "for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (Gen. 2:17).
Temptation came to the first couple in the form of a serpent a deadly beast with an angelic intelligence. He posed veiled threats as, with crafty words, he undermined Adam and Eve's trust in God. Fearing for their lives, and too proud to cry out for help, they consented to the temptation. They sinned, and in sinning they failed the test that God had permitted for their good. If they had feared God more than they feared the serpent, they would have chosen martyrdom at that moment, and they would have entered into a life even greater than paradise. By offering a complete sacrifice of their lives, they would have begun to live the life of glory. For God is love, and love demands a total gift of self. In eternity, the complete gift of self is the Trinity's inner life. In time, the image of divine life is sacrificial, life-giving love. We must die to ourselves for the sake of another. And that's what Adam and Eve failed to do.2
Why would God allow this? The Catechism quotes the ancient scholar Origen in this regard: "God does not want to impose the good, but wants free beings" (no. 2847). God made man and woman to be free. That free choice is what made temptation possible. But it is also what made love possible. For love cannot be coerced; love requires a free movement of the will. With freedom came the potential for the highest love, but also for the gravest peril.
What's the Use?
Origen says that "[t]here is a certain usefulness to temptation" (quoted in the Catechism, no. 2847). Temptation, when resisted, strengthens the believer. Indeed, God permits trials for this reason. Temptation makes us face the stark choice: for God or against God. When we make the decision for God, we grow stronger in faith, hope, and love.
Contrary to popular belief, then, temptation is not a sign of God's disfavor or punishment. Indeed, down through history, all of God's "favorites" were led to be tempted by severe trials. Consider Abraham, who was asked to sacrifice his only son. Consider Joseph, who was beaten and sold into slavery by his own brothers. Consider Job, whose family and property perished in Satan's murderous rampage. Above all, consider Jesus, for God did not spare Him the most severe temptations. "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Mt. 4:1, emphasis added). The Greek verb for "lead" is different here from the verb in the Lord's Prayer, but the idea is more emphatic. When Mark tells the same story, he says that "[t]he Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness" (Mk. 1:12). The Greek verb translated as "drove" means, literally, "threw"! If Jesus Himself was "thrown" into severe temptation, we should not complain that we are unloved by God when He "leads" us into temptation. For, like God's other beloved, we will shine more brightly when we, with God's help, have struggled successfully.
"God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth" (Wis. 3:5-7).
Temptation, then, is something useful in God's providence, because of God's grace.
Tempted to be Tempted?
Trials are useful, but still we should not seek them out. In fact, we should avoid them as much as we can. Note that Jesus did not teach us to pray, "Lead us into temptation." For that would surely be presumptuous of our own power of endurance.
Adam learned the hard way that, on our own, we do not have the strength to overcome temptation. Those who think they can prevail are usually in for a fall, as Adam was.
For who among us is better prepared than Jesus' apostles? They enjoyed a privileged schooling, at the feet of the Master Himself. They received the Eucharist from Jesus' own hand. Moreover, on that very night, just hours after their First Communion, Our Lord warned them in no uncertain terms twice! that they were about to face their most fearsome temptation. Yet, like Adam, they failed. They feared. They fled their Master's side. Will our faith hold up better under fire?
This is why Jesus urged the apostles to "pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Lk. 22:40, 46). Temptations may be inevitable, but a realistic Christian knows he's not ready for them.
The inner logic of the Our Father should tell us so. To the extent that we don't advance the Kingdom of God, to the extent that we don't do God's will, to the extent that we don't worthily and gratefully receive our daily bread, to the extent that we don't seek forgiveness, to the extent that we don't forgive to that same extent will we be vulnerable to temptation.
Trial is necessary, but if we enter trial with unforgiven sin or with an unforgiving spirit, we will be unprepared. We'll lose. What is it that causes a difficulty to become a temptation? It is our own inability to bear it because we have failed to live out the other petitions of the Lord's Prayer.
Scott Hahn. "Lead Us Not into Temptation . ." Lay Witness (May/June 2003).
This article is reprinted with permission from Lay Witness magazine. Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.
Dr. Scott Hahn is professor of theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. He received his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in biblical theology from Marquette University. This series explores God's fatherhood, drawing from Sacred Scripture and the Church's Tradition. This is the third installment.
Copyright © 2003 LayWitness
In this month's installment of our liturgical Bible study, we come to the readings for the Lenten season. The 40 days of Lent are meant to replicate in the life of the Church the 40-day fast of Jesus recounted in the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent. That reminds us of the operating principle of our Bible study: Jesus Christ is the central, inner meaning of the whole of salvation history.
In the Gospel of Luke, the episode of Christ's 40-day fast and temptation provides us with a model for our own victory over one of the greatest problems of mankind temptation. As the center and key to human history, Jesus begins His mission of repairing the damage done by sin since the Fall of Adam and Eve by going into the wilderness to face a similar temptation, and to succeed where they had failed.
Luke's presentation of Jesus as the "new Adam" is even introduced in the words just before the temptation episode. At the end of chapter three, the genealogy describing Jesus' human origins concludes with the words: "Adam, the son of God" (3:38). Adam had no human father he was the "son of God." That phrase could almost stand as a title for the drama of temptation that follows. Even Satan echoes the new Adam theme when tempting Jesus by using the words, "If you are the Son of God" (4:3), repeating the title just used for Adam at the end of chapter three.
Satan entices Jesus three times to abandon His righteous course, using food, power, and death as his tools. Jesus answers by quoting from the book of Deuteronomy, which sums up the lessons God had tried to teach the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the desert at the time of the exodus from Egypt. Luke (and Matthew, in his version of the same event) obviously wants to draw a parallel between the trials of Israel during the exodus and the 40 days that Jesus is in the desert. Jesus, again, expresses in Himself the beginning, the middle, and the end of God's plan, in layer upon layer of symbolism drawn from Old Testament history. But let's focus our attention on the way in which Jesus' encounter with evil incarnate resembles the account of the Fall in Genesis.
The ancient serpent (see also Revelation 12) tempted Adam and Eve with the same three items: food, power, and death. The evil one suggested to Eve that she should eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve answers that they had been told that if they ate of that tree they would die. Satan replies that they wouldn't die, but rather, they would gain the power of gods. Of course, Adam and Eve succumb to the temptation.
Jesus does the very opposite. He says, "Man shall not live by bread alone," "You shall not tempt the Lord your God," and "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve." The three temptations, or tests, that Adam and Eve, and then Jesus encountered symbolize the three sources of temptation that tradition describes: the flesh, the world, and the devil. Satan tempts Jesus with food, symbolizing the desires of the flesh; with power over earthly kingdoms, symbolizing the lure of the world; and with a direct appeal from himself (Satan) to tempt death, which is a symbol both for the devil himself and the deadliest of all sins into which he seeks to draw us, pride.
The whole point of Luke's account is that Jesus has gone before us into the battle against temptation and won. If we follow His example in resisting temptation and beg for His grace to enable us to overcome all the temptations we face, we can become saints, even great saints. Scripture says of Our Lord, "because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted" (Heb. 2:18). When temptation strikes, whether it comes from the flesh, the world, or the devil, it is vital that we not try to go it alon e. The sooner we cry out to Jesus and employ the wisdom of the saints in resisting evil, the sooner we will come to resemble Him, and them, in virtue. That is our task in this holy season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Now let's take a closer look at the readings for the First Sunday of Lent.
This Lenten season begins with recounting the "first fruits" offering that was commanded of Israel before entry into the Promised Land. That is, we are reminded that to enter into the promises of Easter, we must offer the best of ourselves in the coming Lent.
The first fruits offering was not simply a kind of bribe given to God in return for fertility, as was often the case in other cultures. The offering was divided among the priests, the poor, and the aliens (those in a strange land). It was an act of almsgiving. A ceremonial recitation was commanded along with the offering, and it was intended to impress upon the one making the offering that he was once poor and an alien in a strange land. "My father was a wandering Aramean," he would say.
The Jews thought of themselves corporately as a nation and so when one recalled that Abraham had been a sojourner in Egypt, or that God had drawn Israel out of Egypt again under Moses, it was a profession of one's own experience in the collective identity of Israel. So for Israel, the first fruits offering was a collective act of humility and charity. In this ritual act that fed the poor and the alien, Israel said, in effect, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
We have the same need as Israel to recognize that what we have is a gift. We have been given the "Promised Land" the Church through no merit of our own. We were once wandering Gentiles, we might say. Even if we are lifelong Catholics and the children of lifelong Catholics, in some measure we still owe the gift of our faith to a long-forgotten Abraham in our own family tree, someone who responded fruitfully to God's invitation. In this Lenten season, one of the ways we can express our gratitude to God for His gifts is by being generous to the poor and the alien.
St. Paul uses many terms in this reading that are charged with meaning. They are so weighty because they allude to events from the Old Testament. St. Paul employs at least five allusions to Old Testament passages in just five verses in our second reading (cf. Lev. 18:5; Deut. 30:12, 14; Is. 28:16; Joel 3:5).
One example of St. Paul's usage of a weighted word, one with significant, multiple meanings, occurs when he contrasts the righteousness that comes from the Law and the righteousness that comes by faith. In Hebrew, the term "righteousness" is zedek. In the ancient world, it could mean that you were a legitimate heir or descendent. Kings were spoken of as "righteous," not because of their morals, but their lineage. To be "righteous" meant you were the rightful heir, that is, you had a right to inherit the throne.
But "righteousness" can also mean acting justly or doing the right thing. One would be said to be just or righteous if he obeyed God's laws and lived in accord with the Covenant.
St. Paul's point, then, is that righteousness understood as an inheritance is not possible to earn by works (righteous acts), any more than one can earn the right to sit on the throne. The throne is received by inheritance. That is, it is a gift, and so is our inheritance of heaven.
An inheritance cannot be earned, but it can be squandered or lost, as the parable of the prodigal son shows. We can get ourselves removed from the will, you might say. We can't earn the inheritance God offers in Christ, but we must live like the royalty we are by declaring our faith in Christ and becoming His disciples.
A proper understanding of the term "righteousness" combines the two ideas contained in the one, weighted word. We receive the gift of being righteous (or rightful) heirs by faith in Christ, and we keep our place in the inheritance by righteous acts of faith working in love under the influence of God's grace.
British biblical scholar N.T. Wright makes the case that Luke's Gospel intends to stand astride two worlds: Hellenistic and Jewish. For the ancients, Wright explains, stories shaped a society's worldview, and stories that sought to reshape a worldview were inherently subversive. The way to change someone's mind was to alter his understanding of the story of the world. The Gospel story is just such a "subversive" story, one that seeks to change peoples' minds about themselves and their world. Luke was interested in changing the way the Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) people understood themselves and the world, and he did this by showing that Jesus is the definitive key not only to the Jewish story, but also to the whole human story.
Luke does this by framing the story of the Gospel as a bios (the root of biography). The story of Jesus is told in the way that the ancient Greeks and Romans would tell stories of the great figures of history. Luke shows that the Jewish worldview or story is the central one for all mankind, and that Jesus is the fulfillment and proof of the universality of the Jewish story. As Wright puts it, Luke's Gospel is a "Jewish message for the Gentile world." (1)
Above we discussed Luke's interest in showing that Jesus is a new Adam and an embodiment of the new Israel, who does well in what His forerunners did badly. But Luke is also particularly interested in showing that Jesus is the new David, a new king of which the world ought to take note. (The ancients were very interested in royalty because they were seen as carrying a divine mandate. Kings and queens had their hands on the controls of history, you might say.) Jesus, in Luke's view, is the figure who is to extend the blessings promised to Israel under King David to the whole world. One of the parallels between David and Jesus can be seen in our Gospel reading this week.
In 1 Samuel 16:13, the Holy Spirit rushed upon David after the prophet Samuel anointed him. Then, in 1 Samuel 17, David fought and defeated the Philistine giant Goliath. In Luke's Gospel, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the Jordan after the prophet John baptizes Him. Then, Jesus fights and defeats Satan in the desert. Interestingly, at the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus, a voice is heard from heaven: "Thou art my beloved son." In Hebrew the name "David" means "beloved." The name is applied to David only after the Spirit rushes upon him in 1 Samuel 16. Likewise, Jesus who is Ben David, or the Son of David, is dubbed the "beloved son" at the coming of the Spirit in Luke 3.
Many more parallels could be shown between the stories of David and Jesus in Luke's Gospel. Of course, as has already been mentioned, the parallels between Jesus' story and that of David are not the only ones between Jesus and Old Testament figures. But we can learn a great deal about Jesus by analyzing any one set of these Old Testament parallels.
It is important for us to remember that, in Jesus, we also are connected to the people of Israel who struggled to remain faithful to their God. ("Israel" means "struggle.") In the 40 days of our Lenten season, we relive their 4,000 years of struggle, just as Jesus relived that struggle in His 40 days of testing in the desert. In Him, the Jewish story becomes our story. In Him, we hope for the Easter victory that heralds the salvation story for the whole world.
(1) Jesus tells us that those who prove themselves trustworthy in small things will be given responsibility for greater things. How does this apply to the life of virtue and the struggle against temptations?
(2) Before you can make the basketball team you have to learn the basic skills of shooting and dribbling. How would that example fit in with our practice of Lenten sacrifices (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving)?
(3) What are the three traditional sources of temptation?
(4) Each of us has different weaknesses and strengths. What temptations are you weakest against and which bother you the least? (Avoid the mistake, however, of thinking that any temptation is trivial.)
Make a resolution to apply your Lenten sacrifices to fighting the temptation that troubles you the most.2nd Sunday of Lent Gen. 15:5-12,17-18 Phil. 3:17-4:1 Lk. 9:28-36
The land promised to Abram's descendants is shown to be not merely the geographical land of Palestine but that glorious heaven of which we are citizens even now, and of which the Transfigured Jesus gives us a glimpse.
3rd Sunday of Lent Ex. 3:1-8, 13-15 1 Col. 10:1-6, 10-12 Lk. 13:1-9
St. Paul reminds us that the events of the Exodus foreshadow our own sacramental life in the Church. Having received Baptism and Eucharist, we have a greater responsibility than the fig tree of Israel to bear good fruit for the Master.
4th Sunday of Lent Is. 66:10-11 Josh. 5:9, 10-12 Lk. 15:1-3, 11-32
Israel had to do 40 years of penance in the desert before God would lift "the reproach of Egypt" from them; we profess in our 40 days of Lent that we are prodigals too and in need of penance to become the "new creation" about which St. Paul speaks.
Innerst, Sean. "Lead Us Not into Temptation." Lay Witness (March 2001).
Reprinted with permission of Lay Witness magazine.
Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.
Copyright © 2001 LayWitness
|Lead Us Not into Temptation
|In the Our Father, we pray, "And lead us not into temptation." This sounds a little odd, because why would God lead us into temptation?
Upon first hearing, this petition of the Our Father does sound like we are asking God not to lead us into temptation. (The Our Father is found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.) In this sense, the petition sounds like God would purposely place us in temptation and set us up for a fall to sin. The literal translation of the Greek text is indeed, as we recite, "and lead us not into temptation."
God is strong enough to free you from everything and can do you more good than all the devils can do you harm. All that God decrees is that you confide in Him, that you draw near Him, that you trust Him and distrust yourself, and so be helped; and with this help you will defeat whatever hell brings against you. Never lose hold of this firm hope...even if the demons are legion and all kinds of severe temptations harass you. Lean upon Him, because if the Lord is not your support and your strength, then you will fall.Highlighting this understanding of this petition, the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent in its exposition of the Our Father stated:
We do not ask to be totally exempt from temptation, for human life is one continuous temptation (cf. Jb 7:1). What, then, do we pray for in this petition? We pray that the divine assistance may not forsake us, lest having been deceived, or worse, we should yield to temptation; and that the grace of God may be at hand to succor us when our strength fails, to refresh and invigorate us in our trials.The idea of persevering also moves us to ponder the final time. Some Scripture scholars suggest that this petition does not necessarily refer to our daily temptations to sin, but perhaps the great eschatological test when we may be tempted away from the Lord. Here we would face the one great future trial with a terrible onslaught by the devil (cf. 2 Thes 2:1-8).
Matthew's version of the Our Father adds "but deliver us from evil evil not being some amorphous force but a personified evil, the devil. The devil is the tempter, the Satan, who tries to obstruct the Lord's plan of salvation and tempt us from the path of holiness. Recall that at the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to His Father, "I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to guard them from the evil one." However, we need not live in fear for, by the grace of God, we will persevere.
Therefore, as we continue our Lenten preparation, we must undergo a thorough self-examination, recognize our temptations and weaknesses, and repent of sin and receive sacramental absolution. We must implore the Lord to pour forth His grace to give us a firm resolution of heart to follow Him, to keep us vigilant against temptation and evil, and to persevere until the end.
Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and a professor of catechetics and theology at Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria. If you enjoy reading Fr. Saunders's work, his new book entitled Straight Answers (400 pages) is available at the Pauline Book and Media Center of Arlington, Virginia (703/549-3806).
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)