“And lead us not into temptation ...” This vexing phrase from the Lord’s Prayer — the “Our Father” — is, for many, something of a stumbling block. Pope Francis himself has acknowledged the difficulty. God does not lead us directly into temptation, we would think. Then again, God not only led Jesus himself into temptation after his baptism, “(a)t once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mk 1:12-13). We may retort, well he was God. Yet the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “(t)hrough Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission …” (CCC 1213).

It could not be clearer that to be tempted is not to be a sinner — for Jesus was without sin — and that God not only can allow the holy to be tempted, but that, for some mysterious reason, lead or even drive them into a place where they are certain to be tempted. What? Well, first of all, unlike Jesus, we are all sinners and, therefore, vulnerable to temptation. There is, however, always a danger — a temptation in itself! — to take a verse out of context. Satan himself is famous for that. The next sentence after the Marcan quote above reads, “(h)e was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him” (Mk 1:13). That tells us something.

Yes, Jesus is divine, and we are not, I think we can all agree. Yet there is no escape from the reality that he, like us, was tempted and we would rather not be, one would assume. Most often it is we that put ourselves into the “near occasions of sin” we promise to avoid in the Act of Contrition.

So then, Jesus was not alone, but always in the company of angels. Why would God do this to us who are not God and who do not have the help of angels? Well there we go again, forgetting context. The very next verse of the “Our Father” is “but deliver us from evil.” We are asking that God NOT to let us sin even though we face temptation. It is the nature of temptation, to trip us up on our path. Let’s not let one challenging phrase in a prayer itself become a temptation to dismiss its importance in our spiritual life!

Clearly, we have all set out to do the right thing as disciples and found ourselves tempted. The nuns used to warn that the Devil is most anxious to tempt us after a good confession and, I would add, right after Mass. Sometimes it can happen just by going to church! At the moment we enter, we find ourselves filled with all sorts of uncharitable thoughts — especially if we sit in the back of the church where we can get distracted by everything going on — annoyed by mask and seating rules, some grumpy or distracting attendant, not to mention what they did with altar arrangements again. And even if no one is cranky today, your first day back, you remember when they were. How nice things used to be when …!

When we leave Mass to go into the world, as is our discipleship mission, we can begin to appreciate even more the necessity of Jesus being driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit and why it matters to us. The desert is the world and all its wild allurements: the hunger for wealth, power and pleasure, yes, but also the context of our entire existence, where we encounter others hungry and searching to fill their hungers.

If God sent his Son into the world to seek out the lost, those caught in the thicket of their own wandering lust, the straps of their own sandals, the consequences of their own bad investments, then we might expect that, as disciples, we will be sent, led into a world full of temptations as Jesus himself was. We pray not that we will be free of temptations from God — for God does not tempt us to evil, God does not lead us away from the divine self who seeks us — but that in the world God sends us into we may be delivered from the allurements that wealth, power and pleasure present.

We must touch the lives of others and be present to them IF we are to bring the heart of Jesus to them and see the face of God in them, the joy of God’s simple radiance and the hunger of the merciful heart of Jesus, the thirst for souls that is insatiable. The poor and the hungry will show us the heart of Jesus yearning for our love. That is where the Holy Spirit will lead us. We must pray that, as we are driven out to sinful, seeking souls, we are not tempted to devour, exploit, count or misdirect them, but only lead them to God. In short, we pray that we may not be tempted by our neighbor nor become a source of temptation for them. Only God can deliver us from the temptations in the necessary encounter with sinners, indeed with our own sinful patterns, lest they be a stumbling block, a temptation for our neighbor.

In summary, I don’t think we need to be embarrassed by these words in the Lord’s Prayer, assuming Jesus meant something other than what he said, or that St. Matthew misrepresented what he said. The words are there to remind us that we will encounter temptation if we take seriously our mission as disciples, which is to be sent by God to “(g)o into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). To do so is to encounter sin and the effects of sin on a fallen humanity. This will inevitably lead us into temptation, particularly the temptation to discouragement, which is the most diabolical of all. Like Jesus, however, we are assured of the assistance of angels and, I am sure, many saints as well.

If we go “two by two” (or more), as Jesus counsels (cf. Mk 6:7, Lk 10:1), accompanying one another and bolstering each other up with prayer and encouragement, we will be able to resist those unclean spirits and send them flying. After all, that is what we pray for every day — “and deliver us from evil” — and why we must pray every day.

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