“And do not put us to the test”

Luke 11:4; Matthew 6:13

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Luke 11:1-4; Matthew 6:9-13

Whether we use this translation or the more commonly used ‘lead us not into temptation’, this is at first glance a pretty horrible line. I’m glad I’m not alone in my dislike: Pope Francis loathes it too. From any reading of it, it sounds like God is deliberately trying to throw obstacles in our path to tempt us.

How often too does this simply feed into our negative image of God as a harsh, cruel judge? Or a trickster? The problem is that too many people think that God tries to test our love, our loyalty or our obedience. God is waiting to get us. In short, we seem to have a God with a mean streak. But that is not in God’s job description – and certainly not in God’s nature as the loving parent of us all.
If ever there was a case for a freer translation – like “Save us from our time of trial” – it’s here!

The good news is that such a translation may indeed be justified. I read a scholar recently who argued that it might well be a clunky translation from the original Aramaic or Hebrew saying into Greek. It probably meant something like ‘do not allow us to be led into temptation’, but somewhere along the line, the complex Aramaic got translated into Greek who understood the original meaning but used this as a kind of shorthand.

Nice if you understand this, being fluent in Aramaic/Hebrew and Greek, but not easy if you don’t. And then when we get to European languages, it gets even more difficult.

What then does it mean? Life throws at us all kinds of difficulties, including suffering and temptations. Sometimes it is hard to make a good decision – or even choose the lesser evil. This prayer asks God to be present to us in these times, inspiring us to make better decisions, decisions more in keeping with our deepest and best instincts.

Forgiving God,

Save us in our times of trial, by reminding us that our true selves rest in you; In our remembering this, give us the strength to persevere along the right path.


Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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