This past December, when it was reported that our Holy Father suggested that the Lord’s Prayer be changed, I was deeply concerned. How could a prayer that was taught to us by our Lord and Savior be wrong? Pope Francis indicated that he was troubled with the phrase, “and lead us not into temptation”, because certainly it was not God that leads us into temptation, but the evil one.
Once again, this subject inspired me to further investigation. I looked to Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, and prominent theologians for guidance. In Matthew, Chapters 5-7, we find the Sermon on the Mount, of which the Lord’s Prayer is an integral part. Luke (11:1) introduces the Lord’s Prayer with Peter’s request, “Lord, teach us to pray”.
We are reminded of His instruction every time we celebrate the Eucharist, when, after the Eucharistic Prayer, at the beginning of the Communion Rite, we stand as the Celebrant says, “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say,”…
Yes, the very words our Savior gave us, when he was asked by his Apostles how to pray to God our Father, form the very words of the prayer we learned as children, and continue to pray this day.
In the original writings of the Evangelists, the language used to transcribe the words our Savior spoke in Aramaic was Greek. Translating the text from Greek to English has caused some issues and confusion.
Saint Augustine, one of the Doctors of the Church, sheds some light on this very topic, when he writes about the Lord’s Prayer, explaining:
“The sixth petition is “And bring us not into temptation” (cf. Mt. 6:13). Some manuscripts have the word “lead,” which is, I judge, equivalent in meaning, for both translations have arisen from the one Greek word that is used. But many who pray express themselves thus: “Allow us not to be led into temptation,” explaining in what sense the word “lead” is used. For God does not Himself lead, but allows that man whom He has deprived of His assistance to be led into temptation, in accordance with a most hidden arrangement, and with what he deserves. Often, for manifest reasons, He also judges him worthy of being so deprived and allowed to be led into temptation.” (St. Augustine of Hippo, On the Sermon on the Mount, Chapter 9).
In the Letter of James, we find the author saying, “No one experiencing temptation should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13)
After the Last Supper, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Our Lord told his disciples twice to pray to the Father to be protected against temptation: When they first arrived at the garden, He said to them, “Pray that you may not undergo the test.” (Luke 22:40). Again in the garden, after praying to the Father to let this cup pass if it be His will, He returned and found his disciples asleep, and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.” (Luke 22:46). The “test”, of course, is temptation.
Christ himself was not exempt from temptation. At the beginning of his ministry, after his baptism in the Jordan, Matthew tells us: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1).
It is interesting to note that the Greek verb for “lead” is different here from the one in the Lord’s Prayer, and the idea is more emphatic. The Gospel of Mark tells the same story; Mark says that “At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert” (Mk. 1:12). Modern-day theologian Dr. Scott Hahn, Chair of Biblical Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, points out: “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.”
Our Creator has created us in His image, providing us with free will – to choose to love and obey Him and thereby to enjoy eternal life – or not. He wants us to choose Him but has given us the opportunity to choose otherwise. He did not lead Adam and Eve to temptation by providing them with the fruit from the tree of life in the garden of Eden, but he made it possible for them to accept or reject Him by endowing them with a free will.
He provided Abraham with a free will and instructed him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Abraham certainly could have opted to ignore this command, but instead Abraham chose to trust completely in the Lord and was rewarded with “descendants as countless as the stars in the sky.” (Gen 22:1-19)
Every day we are provided with choices. We are tested, as were the ancient Hebrews, to accept God Our Father or to turn away from Him. The correct choice is the one for which we will be eternally grateful.