I have been thinking about the Lord's Prayer, as usual, and about the line in that prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” I have always been puzzled by this, because I couldn't understand why it should need to be said: would God ever lead us into temptation?
Things to remember: Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray. As they follow Jesus, he will lead them quite literally into temptation. The temptation, for instance, to deny knowing Jesus at all, in order to save their own skins. And yet he teaches them here to pray, lead us not into temptation.
To follow Jesus is to follow him with all this susceptability to temptation seemingly hardwired into us. When it becomes uncomfortable, when it becomes costly, when it looks like it will cause me to lose something I treasure, I might be tempted to give up on it.
It happened to Peter of course. And then Jesus might have written him off as an unworthy disciple, but of course he didn't. In fact, he renewed his call upon Peter once again. And in doing so, you can bet, he was calling Peter back into situations where he would be tempted to dishonor Jesus again in order to save his own skin. But the terrible betrayal that happened in the courtyard of Pontius Pilate would not happen again. When you put that story together with the story of Jesus re-calling of Peter, that morning at the beach along the shore of the lake, when the resurrected Jesus looks him in the eye and three times says, “Feed my sheep,” you find in Peter then a man who has begun to know the height and depth and length and breadth of the love of Jesus.
What we learn from such experiences then is our own weakness and also the steadfastness of Jesus' love for us. But, precisely because we know our own weakness, we dred having to go through such an experience of temptation. Jesus was in the process of giving himself up for his people, and at that very moment Peter was in the process of denying ever knowing him, three times. We pray, lead me not into temptation, because we know our own weakness, our own tendencies, our own proneness to sin and to dishonor the calling of God upon our lives.
Then there is that part about the evil one. “Deliver us from the evil one.” When Jesus was led (no, driven, according to Mark!) by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, it was precisely in order to face down a grueling series of temptations. One thing to notice about these temptations is that the devil knows your weakness and your fears. The devil knows these things, in fact, better than you know them, and so the temptation he sets before you is carefully tailored to your own weakness, and what is actually designed for your downfall comes in a package that looks like golden opportunity.
The devil's mission is to get you to dishonor Jesus and to undermine your own calling. To make you, if he can, of no use to God's kingdom plan. For example, you are called to love sacrificially. Can he undermine that calling, showing the costliness of that kind of love, so that you might draw back, and replace costly love with self-protecting aloofness? He wil try. And so you and I need God to deliver is from such wiles as these, for we are not nearly so clever as the evil one who seeks to ensnare us.
Lord God, protect me from myself, and protect me from the evil one. Amen.