February 28, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. … Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (Jas 1:13-14, 12).

The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent (Mt 4:1-11) tells the familiar story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert by the devil. It’s interesting to note that St. Matthew says, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil ” (Mt 4:1).

Why would the Holy Spirit want to subject Jesus, who was hungry and weak from fasting 40 days and 40 nights, to temptation by the devil? Isn’t this one of the things that Jesus told us to ask for in the prayer he taught us (the Lord’s Prayer), “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”?

Pope Francis upset some people recently when he approved a change in the Italian translation of the Lord’s Prayer from “lead us not into temptation” to “do not let us fall into temptation.” When he approved this change, the Holy Father said that it’s important to make it clear that God, our loving Father, would never serve as an occasion of sin by deliberately leading us into temptation.

But isn’t this precisely what the Holy Spirit did when he led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil?

It’s important to understand that the Greek word often translated as “tempted” is peirasmós, which can refer either to being “tempted” or to being “tested.”

Pope Francis is certainly correct when he says that a loving Father would never seduce his own children by deliberately leading them into temptation. At the same time, both the Book of Job and the Gospels clearly show that God gives the devil a lot of room to test us.

Righteous men and women in the Old Testament, and disciples of Jesus in the New Testament, are often subjected to tests. Not all of them have the patience of Job, or the unwavering fidelity of Jesus, but all who ultimately pass their tests by not surrendering to the self-serving lies of the devil, give witness to the power of God’s grace in the face of every test or temptation.

St. Matthew tells us that the tempter said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread ” (Mt 4:3). As we know, Jesus says in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). This can’t have been a flippant or easy answer. Jesus was human—and very hungry! But he overcomes the devil’s temptation, and passes the test that must be faced by every virtuous person by insisting that there’s more to life than being comfortable.

Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city (Jerusalem), St. Matthew tells us, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone” (Mt 4:6).

Surely Jesus must have been tempted by this. We all desire safety and security. None of us wants to believe that there is no safety net that will catch us if we trip and fall. But if Jesus was tempted by this, he quickly overcomes it, saying, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test’ ” (Mt 4:7).

Finally, the devil makes his most audacious, desperate move. He offers Jesus fame, fortune and worldly power. Now, having successfully passed the devil’s more subtle and seductive tests, Jesus flatly rebukes him: “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve’ ” (Mt 4:10).

We are right to pray, in English, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” or, in Italian, “do not let us fall into temptation.” Both petitions affirm that God’s grace alone makes it possible for us to overcome the seductive power of the devil and pass the tests we must take as faithful disciples of Jesus.

During this holy season of Lent, let’s pray for the wisdom and strength of Jesus in the face of every temptation, saying: “Thy will be done. Thy kingdom come, on Earth as it is in heaven. Amen.” †

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