Today, the first Sunday of Lent, we remember how Jesus was tempted for 40 days in the wilderness. Each time we pray the Our Father we say, ‘Lead us not into temptation’. Not so long ago, Pope Francis, as is his want, shocked everyone by saying that this translation is very misleading – and should be changed! Change the wording of the Our Father? Never. Well, there are other more modern versions of the Our Father in English which change words such as ‘trespasses’ which conjure up signs on some private block of land. These translations are really quite good but I think the reason they haven’t been adopted is that all the Christian churches need to change together for we don’t want to give up the one prayer that we have in common, even if we don’t add, ‘For thine is the kingdom….’ which we say shortly afterwards in our Catholic Mass.
What is Pope Francis on about? He’s not happy that we are unwittingly suggesting that God, our loving Father, could possibly do such a thing as to ‘lead us into temptation.’ God cannot possibly lead us or tempt us to commit sin. Sin is evil, God is goodness itself. Biblical scholars suggest that a more accurate translation would be, ‘Do not bring us to the test.’ So it’s a question not of being tempted but of being put to the test. Is that more helpful? Let’s look a little more closely, firstly at Jesus’ own ‘temptations’ or ‘testing’. The first thing we notice is that it is Satan, not God, who is doing the tempting or testing. Satan is the great tempter who as with Job is permitted to test God’s children. The tempter is called by many names in Scripture: the devil, Satan, accuser, slanderer, and father of lies, just to name a few. He is an intelligent being who is completely evil.
Two of the temptations begin with ‘If you are the Son of God’. See how Satan is testing this Jesus, he wants to find out, not how weak he is, but to see what he is made of. It’s from here also that we get our saying that ‘even the devil can quote scripture to his own advantage’ which is precisely what he tries to do with Jesus who quickly responds with a counter quote from the same scriptures. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that it was necessary that Jesus should be tested in order to become our leader. In fact, ‘in order to feel our weaknesses with us, he has been tempted (tested) in every way that we are – though he is without sin.’ [Heb 4,15] I find that very comforting.
So let’s get back to our petition in the Lord’s Prayer. How are we tested? We can be tested to see what sort of disciples we are. Remember in the Garden of Gethsemani how Jesus told his disciples to pray that they not be put to the test as he was about to be tested. And poor Peter was the first to be tested as a disciple of Jesus. ‘Surely you’re one of his disciples?’ He replied, ‘Look, I don’t even know the man.’ Failed miserably. He goes out and weeps bitterly. Later he will remember when Jesus had warned him about this that he had prayed for him that he come back and strengthen his brothers. So don’t get discouraged.
It might be helpful to think of that rugby coach who might add another agonising pyramid to the training to bring the best out of you. To ask God to not ‘put us to the test’ is also like a man who says to his wife, ‘Don’t ever leave me.’ It is not that he thinks her likely to do so but is more of a statement that his life is utterly wrapped up in hers, as ours is in the life of God. We’ll let St James have the last word: “Don’t say ‘God sent the temptation’…God does not tempt anyone. We are seduced by our own desires.” [1,13-14]