Monday, February 9, 2009

Mike: Matthew 6:13

Let's move on to the next passage: "And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one." (Matthew 6:13) (NRSV). Many of us memorized the KJV version: "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The NIV splits the difference: "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."
Translation is a bit of art. Each version represents a faithful attempt to render the Greek in English.

That being said, what might Jesus have in mind? Start with "the time of trial." Most Christian commentators, myself included, interpret the petition in terms of proper humility. A follower of Jesus recognizes his or her limits. We do not seek tests of faithfulness, mostly because we admit our strength inadequate to ensure we will make the right choices.

In the gospels, Peter serves as the model of a follower who long failed to recognize his own weakness. Peter rashly declares he will be faithful to Jesus regardless of circumstances, only to betray Jesus three times before the dawn of the next day. In the setting of the last supper, Peter seems to crave to be tested. He is convinced of his unbreakable integrity. Peter's humilating defeat by the fireside is traumatic not least because it destroys his inflated sense of his own invincibility. Lesson one: Do not seek to be tested.

The petition, however, suggests that God indeed may test us, even as Jesus was tested in the wilderness. A wise person asks God not to do so, even as she or he recognizes God is free to impose such testing for God's own reasons. The gospel model of this approach is the prayer of Jesus in the garden: "Let this cup pass from my lips; nonetheless, not my will but your will be done." The petition holds the potential to renovate our mindset, so that we increasingly trust the loving God will not place us in any situation beyond his power to see us through (even if we should die in the process).

"Rescue us from the evil one" is a perfectly fine translation, but I rather prefer the KJV: "And deliver us from evil." We speak such a petition because we increasingly sense the scope of the opposition, the weight of that which would separate us from God. Evil as embodied in human institutions, ways of thinking, unwritten codes, and daily practice wields enormous power. By the time most of us become able to think abstractly, we are so entangled by such evil as to make it practically impossible to escape on our own. Through the petition, we ask for God's ongoing intervention on our behalf.

Keep in mind, of course, that all of the above applies not only to the individual but to groups as well. In the case of Christians, we pray the petition on behalf not only of ourselves but for the entire Body of Christ. Personally, I pray the petition on behalf of all humanity.

We pray the petition continually, recognizing that even the light we are given today burns only through that portion of the darkness nearest us. We shall need yet more light if we are to walk very far.


TheNote said...

Is it possible it says "Leave us not in . . . ???"

As in, 'Yikers, I've gotten myself into a fine mess here, please show me the way to Life sorted out right - '

(Do you think it's possible there's a reason live & the other is a word flipped around?)


Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Mike. I'm fairly certain the Greek does not allow for such a translation. That being said, I certainly believe "Leave us not.." is a perfectly allowable interpretation and application of the passage.

TheNote said...

Thank you.