Fr. Charles Irvin
Genesis 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-21; Mark 1:12-15
You and I have prayed The Lord’s Prayer countless numbers of times. In it we always ask God to ” lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Some translations of that famous prayer have it “and subject us not into the trial”. What is it that we are praying for?
As we have all experienced there are various levels of temptation — some powerful and severe, others not so powerful, not so grave; not so weighty. Some temptations are of the flesh. Some temptations are of the spirit. Some involve passion; others involve cold calculation.
Whatever a temptation’s quality or type may be, and at whatever level, it is always a time of testing. Our resolve, our spiritual muscle, is tested. If our willpower is weak and flabby, without muscle power at all, we will be a pushover for the devil.
Jesus also had His times of temptation. The first we know of was during His time in the desert immediately prior to the beginning of His public ministry. He experienced being alone and abandoned, with only His own resources to rely upon. He had his desert experience; we have ours. He knew temptation and trial just as we know them. Jesus’ final temptation, the one suggested to Him as He was dying while nailed in writhing on His cross, was to simply give up. “Come down from the cross, He was told, “and we will believe.”
We need to pay attention to important words that come to us from significant sources. We need, here, to pay attention to the biblical difference between a temptation and a trial. In the bible, a trial is always something far more profound than a temptation. The consequences that follow a trial have finality to them. There is a final, complete, and total outcome to a trial. In teaching us His prayer, deliverance from the sort of trial Jesus is talking about is nothing less than deliverance from battle with the devil himself. When, therefore, we pray that God will protect us in the time of temptation and deliver us from the time of trail, we are asking God to be with us when we face the devil himself.
The problem we need to carefully note is that the devil always comes to us disguised… disguised as something or someone that is good. The chief tactic of the devil is to corrupt what is good. He takes goodness and then devalues it, debases it, corrupts it.
Do you have the gift of charm? Do you have a personality that can charm people? It can be used to seduce others. Do you have power over words? Are you a good wordsmith? You can use your tongue to tempt others. Do you have the gift of intelligence? So does the devil! You can use your power of intelligence to corrupt the truth and twist it into a lie. You see it is just where we are the strongest that the devil will come to challenge our strength and to prove his greater strength. He can use our talents to do his dirty work.
All of this is presented to us in the trial of Jesus Christ. His spectacular trial was before the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. It was the Roman governor, Pilate, who sat on the bench, called in witnesses to present evidence, made a judgment, convicted Jesus, and ordered His execution by crucifixion in the most famous trial in history. “Truth?” Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Then he used a lie to crucify Christ.
We also have a glimpse into the spiritual trial Jesus suffered immediately before He was betrayed by one of His own twelve apostles, Judas Iscariot. It was Judas who turned Jesus over to the Roman authorities. And what a spiritual trial it was — it is reported that Jesus suffered so terribly that He even sweat blood. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss.
There are trials in which we are simply overcome. There are temptations that quite overwhelm us. In corruption we get into a level of evil that’s over our head, and then we drown in it.
Out in the desert, there at the beginning, the first temptations the devil put to Jesus were those that called Him to corrupt the good, to compromise His mission and thereby subvert His Father’s purposes.
This is what is the most insidious aspect of the culture that surrounds us. It suggests that we compromise with evil. It suggests that we follow the easy way. Its first and most effective ploy is to get us to whine “everybody is doing it,” to feel sorry for ourselves, to present ourselves as victims of an autocratic authority and scream about their unfairness. It’s unfair to deprive us, we whine, because “everybody else is doing it”. If we can get just the slightest compromise we can start down a long descending slide until all restraints end up on the ground.
Another ploy is to redefine sin. We can change the definition of something that is wrong into something that appears to be okay, just so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. After that we can ridicule the whole idea of sin. We can turn the devil into a cartoon character, declare that hell doesn’t exist, and depict holy people as ridiculous, unthinking, mindless robots who can’t take care of themselves. The result? Religion and our relationship with God then becomes a throw away item, a nice sort of sentimental fancy that is seemingly unreal in the world in which we must live.
St. Augustine tells us that truly evil people are not even tempted because they are already totally lost. It’s not necessary for the devil to waste any energy tempting them since they are totally corrupt These kinds of people laugh at the idea of temptation – for them, temptations are silly things that don’t even exist. They simply don’t understand temptations because they don’t know what’s good any more. Like Pontius Pilate who, during his trail of Jesus, asked: “Truth? What is truth?” the question today is: “Sin? What is sin”
How many of those around us do you suppose have sold out to evil? How many people have sold their souls to the devil and given away their souls? Do you admire them? They are often, in today’s media, presented to us as gods and goddesses, the media stars whom we should want to be like
Evil, you see, truly is the corruption of goodness, and the battle is going on around us and deep within us, deep within our very own immortal souls.
So it is serious business when we pray: “And lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the trial. Amen.”