Rorate Caeli

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost: Lead us not into temptation

Fr. Richard G. Cipolla


From the gospel of St. Matthew:  Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  

And from today’s epistle from Paul to the Corinthians:  

Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human: and God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it. 



Another difficult passage to deal with on the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.  Last Sunday we had to deal with the dishonest steward and Jesus’ commendation of him. Today we have to deal with St. Paul’s teaching on temptation.  But we must deal with this, for this passage points to one of the most best known phrases in the Lord’s Prayer. “ Lead us not into temptation.”  


The present Pope has expressed dissatisfaction with the English translation of this part of the Lord’s Prayer from the Latin: ne inducas tentationem. His problem is with the verb inducas.  For it seems to imply that God leads us into temptation, which we know cannot be true.  God is not a tempter. The Devil and his minions are the tempters.  So he would prefer a translation that makes it clear that God does not lead us into temptation.  But the fact is that the verb in both Greek and Latin is clearly the verb which in English means “to lead.”  Now it is true that in both the Greek and the Latin the “command”, known as the imperative, is softened by the use of the subjunctive.  It is as it is saying not “Lead!” with an exclamation point but rather a softer order, almost a plea, for God to not lead us into temptation.  That is important.  And just as an aside here, contrary to what is expected of priests at this time in the Church, they should be able to analyze the New Testament in this way.  And if they cannot, they should refer to the interpretations of the Church Fathers in these matters.  That too many priests in the Church today rely on canned homilies or on cursory and contemporary riffs on Scripture is a sign of the times.


 But the problem is not the verb “to lead”.  No one believes that God is a tempter.  The only tempter is Satan and his minions.  And why we are tempted to sin is because we are part of the fallen universe, the whole of which is out of synch with God.  But God defines synch, for God is the creator of all that there is and he created all as good and he created all that there is out of love.  The problem is with the word in Latin "tentationem”.  Its meaning is more subtle than “temptation”.  Its meaning is also trial, things that one has to go through that one does not want to go through.  What we are talking about is a test of faith.  Few Catholics know anything about the book of Job except that is depressing to read.  But it is in this book of the Old Testament that we discover what “do not lead us into the trial” really means.  Everything is taken away from Job, his family, his worldly goods, he is reduced to a man sitting in ashes.  And his friends, pious and real friends, insist that he must have done something against God to merit the terrible situation in which he finds in himself.  And Job insists that he has not succumbed to the temptation to deny God and that whatever he is going through is not because he has succumbed to the temptation to deny God.  And for his reward, when Job tries to cry out to God that he does not deserve the terrible afflictions that have befallen him, God tells him essentially to shut up. His ways are not our ways. But there is a happy ending to the book of Job, where everything is restored to him, a new family, new wealth, new standing in the community.  


 This is what we pray when we pray “do not lead us into the trial.”  When I pray this I say to God:


 I am weak, I am not strong, do not put me into a situation where I am going to be tempted to give up my faith, that I am going to want what I want, knowing that what I want is contrary to the will of God.  Who here wants to be put to the test?  And yet it is Jesus, who in the words of the Gospel of Mark is driven by the Spirt into the desert to the tempted by Satan.  God drives him into the desert not to tempt him but to be tempted by Satan who is the ultimate temptor to prepare him for his ultimate trial and temptation.


But if we want to begin to understand what this pleading to not be led into temptation means we must look at the agony in the Garden.  The Son of God prays that if possible his suffering and death be taken away, that there be an alternative to the demand of faith in the Father.  But there is no alternative to the death of the Son of God who cannot die and who must die for the salvation of the world. 


Once we understand this, we understand what ne inducas in tentationem means for you and me. In our weakness, despite infusions of grace through the Sacraments and prayer and sacrifice, we plead to God to not put us in a situation in which we will because of self love turn our backs on the grace of God that is always there.  It is a plea to God knowing our own weakness.  But that phrase “Do not lead us into temptation” is an affirmation of faith: that God will never abandon us even if we abandon Him.  But you see, that is the definition of love.  Even if I turn my back and abandon the one I am called to love most deeply because he is God, he will never turn his back on me.


I close with St. Paul’s words we heard in the Epistle:


Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human: and God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.