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The Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Jesus' Teaching on Prayer 


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And then finally (last, but certainly not the least), the petition “lead us not into temptation” Now this is the one that causes people a lot of questions. It raises a lot of questions in people’s minds because when we think of temptation, the English word “temptation” is frequently used to describe being enticed into sin. So if I call something a temptation that means it is something that is going to lead me to commit a sin or entice me to sin. So it seems strange (in the context of a prayer to the Father) to ask my father, please don’t entice me to sin. And so there’ve been lots of debates about this, whether we should change the translation in the English or not. And in this case I think I’ll just call your attention to the Catechism. There’s a very helpful paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that clarifies the meaning of this Greek term and the meaning of this expression. There’s no reason for anyone to be scandalized by the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, lead us not into temptation). The Catechism explains exactly what it means. This is in paragraph 2846 of the Catechism. And usually I would wait to talk about the Catechism until the end of the video, with the living tradition, but here it’s actually making an important exegetical point, an interpretation of the Greek word itself. So this is what it says:

This petition goes to the root of the preceding one, for our sins result from our consenting to temptation; we therefore ask our Father not to "lead" us into temptation. It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek means both "do not allow us to enter into temptation" and "do not let us yield to temptation.”

So that’s paragraph 2846, but it goes on, and this is important:

"God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one”…

That’s a quote from James 1:13

…on the contrary, he wants to set us free from evil. We ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin. We are engaged in the battle "between flesh and spirit"; this petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength.

The Holy Spirit makes us discern between trials, which are necessary for the growth of the inner man, and temptation, which leads to sin and death.

What does that mean? You might be thinking, “that doesn’t clarify anything.” Well let me make it clear. The Greek word peirasmos is the same word for trial and temptation. In other words, there is just one Greek word for both those things. And what the Catechism is highlighting here is that the prayer does not mean that God is enticing us to sin, because as the Bible says in James 1: “God tempts no one”. In other words, God doesn’t entice us to sin. However, God does permit us to go through trials, not so that we can fall into sin, but that so we can grow in strength. It’s just like professors. A professor gives a student a test — you can translate the word peirasmos as testing — not for them to fail but for them to succeed. However, it is frequently the case that in the midst of a test, temptations can arise. If you’ve ever cheated on tests you know what I’m talking about. So the Greek word is ambiguous, but that ambiguity actually reveals a certain truth. It is precisely in the midst of trials that we are often tempted to fall away or to commit a sin. So what the prayer is effectively saying (as the Catechism says here) is we are asking, Lord, do not let us yield to temptation, don’t let us fall into temptation; don’t let us succumb to the temptation that often accompanies time of trial. And in this case — I wrote a whole dissertation on this — the Greek word peirasmos actually can refer to “the final trial” as well, like “the final time of testing” that will precede the coming of the kingdom of God. Basically, that last petition is a prayer for divine mercy and also for strength. Don’t let me be tested beyond my strength. Don’t let me yield to temptation in the midst of trial. So it’s hard to communicate that into English. The Greek literally says “lead us not into temptation”, but that’s what it would mean in a 1st Century context, given the meaning of the word peirasmos. “Lead us not into peirasmos, (testing, trial, temptation).”...

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