Lead us not into Temptation


Back when I was in school I was a pretty good student.  Actually, I hardly missed a day and still to this day remember much of what I learned.  However, I wasn’t a very good test taker and to this day, I have problems taking tests.  I think being somewhat of a perfectionist my temperament is such that I have a real fear of failure . . . so whenever I am in a test type environment, I tend to have what we now call a ‘brain freeze’. I once had a calculus professor who always seemed to amuse himself by throwing pop quizzes at his class unexpectedly.  These quizzes . . . for a person who had a hard time with tests of any kind . . . were the worse . . . mainly because there was no time for study or memorization.  In a pop quiz you either know it or you don’t.  This same professor decided one day that he would skip giving an exam . . . and announced instead he would use the average of all our pop quizzes for our final grade. This of course made everyone happy because they didn’t have to study for a final.  But, for me, it just made me sick to my stomach. Needless to say, I didn’t do well in calculus that year . . . but it’s okay though because I have never needed to use calculus ever since.

The other night, after stations of cross, we started to study the allegorical reading of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrims Progress.  The main character, Christian, undergoes many tests of faith and courage as he makes his way to the heavenly city along the path of life.  In one episode, at the insistence of his friend, a guy called Pliable, Christian wanders off the path of life and falls into the slough of despond.  In the DVD we are watching, the slough of despond looks to be a muddy bottomed pond, but in the book it is described in grotesque terms . . . more like quicksand in which one’s very life is in significant peril.  Needless to say, our friend Christian isn’t all that good at test taking either.  We find him falling for one trap after another and if it weren’t for people sent to help him out of these situations, I doubt that he will have ever found the way to the heavenly city.

Most of us are a lot like the character Christian as we try to make our way through life.  Many of us are tempted as he is, tested has he is and fail on occasion as he does.  Although none of us likes failure or the just reward for it . . . reasonable people take it on the chin hoping to somehow learn from the experience and move on . . . confident that we’ll never make that mistake again . . . until of course we do make that mistake again, and then again, and then yet again.  And we ask ourselves why me lord?  Why do you keep testing me with the same situation?

We have been taught that Jesus was in every way tempted and tested as we are and yet did not fall into sin.  This is of course partly due to the fact that he was born without original sin as we are . . . and then of course that fact that he was the son of God after all . . . but in today’s gospel, as Jesus begins his forty day journey into the wilderness, he is led by the Spirit out into the desert and tempted . . . not by something as mundane as running a stop sign when no one’s looking or lifting a beer off the neighbor’s porch . . . but undergoing the temptation of his spirit, of life and of death by Satan himself. . .  not something any of us would wish upon our worse enemy.  The question of course is why did he put himself in this position?  Surely he could have done without it? 

Personally, I think he needed to prove to himself that he was able and willing to see the plan through.  He knew the future, he knew about the cross and the pain and the torment that awaited him . . . but what I think he didn’t know was what the limits of his soul and body were . . . and for those he needed a test of strength in order to gain his resolve to see it through.

And you know . . . I think that is why we are tested as well . . . so that we will know the limits of our strength as we go about the work of living as one of God’s own.  How often do we pray “Lord, lead us not into temptation” as this is just the kind of test we wish to avoid . . . the one that tempts our life against death . . . but instead we pray “deliver us from evil” which is actually translated “deliver us from the evil one” who is Satan.  When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, I believe that his ordeal with Satan in those forty days was paramount in his mind to the end that he provided us a petition  to God that none of us should ever have to go through what he endured in the wilderness.  And yet many have . . . and failed.              

But if we have faith like Christian and if  we trust in God to save us like Jesus, then temptation and testing will be for us at least . . . manageable.

So you might be wondering, what is the point of being tested?  The point is that for those who truly trust in God, there are no limits to one’s existence.  The worries of today come and go, but God is still with us.  The coming wars in the Crimea and the Middle East and their subsequent fallout here at home will be worrisome for many, horrific for some, and yet our faith will be strengthened because of our trust in God and our faith in him to see us through.  Our nation is no longer a nation of faith, (you can tell by all the dribble we put on our TV sets for entertainment), but thank God for us that at least a few of our people are still a people of faith.

Because when we become united to Christ by faith, something so tremendous happens that the New Testament cannot find language adequate to describe it.  It is a new birth, yes, but also a new creation, a resurrection, light out of darkness, and life from the dead.  The bible tells us we were once slaves, but now we are sons.  We were lost, now we have come home.  We were condemned and under the wrath of God, now we have been justified and adopted into his family.  What subsequent experience can possibly compare with this in importance? How do we know this to be true . . . but through testing and overcoming the many temptations in our lives?  And we will sometimes fail . . . and for that we have been given assurance of faith in the blessed sacrament of Christ’s body that sustains us and Christ’s blood that regenerates us anew whenever we fall into sin.  Amen

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