“. . . and do not subject us to the final test.”
This is the final petition in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew’s Gospel has the same words, but in the Latin liturgy we say instead “. . . and lead us not into temptation.” Since we don’t really think God would “tempt” us, perhaps it’s best to think of this request as: “Help us get through the final test,” – or, as in the words that Matthew adds, “Deliver us from evil”. Jesus’ reference in all the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer is the final coming of God’s Kingdom, “on earth, as in heaven”. That’s what Jesus tells His disciples (and us) to ask God for, “. . . as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples.” Jesus also tells us, elsewhere, that the final days will be wrenching and stressful, which is how we’ll be tempted. But why? – and how?
We need to get past the notion that our task as Jesus’ disciples is simply to follow the rules and receive the sacraments. Those aren’t our goals; they’re means to our goal which, as disciples, is to proclaim and show by our lives what God’s Kingdom is like, to show how God wants things to run in human affairs. If we really do that with all our strength, we will arouse opposition from the power structures that rule the world in the human way. And when we encounter that opposition we’re tempted – tempted to back off, not to make waves, to “go along”.
And even if our zeal falters, still we have to face that, in the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to establish His reign now, “. . . on earth as in Heaven.” And if that were to happen, all our societal structures would be turned upside down. Debts would be forgiven. People would be given what they need – by other people – whether they’re “deserving” or not. What would happen to our retirement funds? To our cheap strawberries? Humans would be divided into two camps. That’s why Jesus said He had come not “to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt 10:34). That’s why it is truly daring to say this prayer. [Note the introductory words before the Lord’s prayer at Mass “. . . . we dare to say. . . .”]
Despite Jesus’ focus on the end time in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray it today, for today, not just for some future catastrophe that most of us will probably never personally experience. The Kingdom comes in a myriad of small steps, each calling even the bystanders to choose for or against God’s ways. We can’t avoid the testing. Simply being pious and religiously observant won’t be enough – isn’t enough. There is no single right way to respond to these myriad challenges. But we can ask God for guidance, just as Jesus did when He went off to pray alone at night. We can ask for the light to recognize these in-breakings of the Kingdom for what they are. We can ask for the wisdom to discern what our response should be. We can ask for the courage to be the prophetic people God has created in His spirit-filled, post-Pentecost church.