Question — What Ls the meaning of the curious phrase in the ''Our Father"; "Lead us nor into temptation"? It is inconceivable that God ever would do this and so 1 am sure that, like myself. many other Catholics find thir phrase puzzling.
Answer—Agreed that it is unthinkable that God himself would lead us into temptation. In fact, this is stated explicitly in another part of the New Testament. the Epistle of St. James I, LI: "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one."
The puzzling phrase "Lead us not into temptation" is found in both the Gospel versions of the "Our Father," the longer version in the sixth chapter according to St. Matthew and the shorter version at the beginning of the eleventh chapter according to St. Luke From the earliest centu ries of Christianity there has been dissatisfaction with this phrase, and writers have tried their hand at reinterpreting it in some such sense as "Protect us against temptation."
To render this phrase understandable, the most promising line is to remember that one of the main thoughts behind the "Our Father" is that of looking forward eagerly to the final osecond coming of Our Lord in glory.
When Jesus returns in glory, he will make all things new and he will establish for ever the reign of God the Father. This is the point of the first three petitions: Hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Even the fourth petition in which we ask for our daily bread means that, looking forward to the second coming of Jesus, we are not concerned to possess more than suffices for our daily needs. This petitioit has the same meaning as the familiar hymn: "Lord, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray."
If the main theme of the Lord's Prayer is our expectation of Jesus' return in glory, it is easier to make sense of the phrase "Lead us not into temptation." When the early Christians prayed in this way they would be thinking about how Christ's return would be preceded by a time of great persecution and what they pictured vividly as the rise of the great anti-Christ.
They believed that, during the years immediately before Our Lord's return in glory, the anti-Christ would appear and would reign and there would be a great falling away, an apostasy from the Church. Fearful that at such a time of persecution they themselves would not be able to remain firm in the Faith, they prayed that they might not have to live through this severe test.
Therefore a new experimental translation has recently appeared, published by those in charge of translating the liturgy, and it suggests that, instead of "Lead us not into temptation," it would be more accurate to say, "Do not bring us to the test." See "Prayers We Have in Cornmon" (Geoffrey Chapman).
I am not suggesting that at next Sunday's Mass we
should all change over and use the new wording! However, if we bear it in mind when saying the sixth petition of the "Our Father," we can ask God for two things.
First, like the early Christians, we can pray that God may not call upon us to face the temptation to apostasy which can be brought on us by severe persecution.
Second, while knowing perfectly well that God himself will not tempt us and that he will give us the strength needed to resist every possible temptation, we can still pray quite properly that the circumstances of life for our own family will not expose us to grave temptations against the Faith.
If at the present time Catholics in China are tempted to apostasy through the persecution they suffer, many Catholics at home are tempted to apostasy in a much less spectacular way, because they want to marry someone and, perhaps because of a previous marriage, they are not able to marry in Church.
For ourselves and for anyone else who may be tempted in any of these ways, we can surely say to Our Father in heaven: "Do not bring us to the test."