Last night at David’s study group on the Lord’s Prayer, the petition we focused our attention on was: “And lead us not into temptation.”
The petition is confusing. On the one hand, it implies that God could choose to lead us into temptation – the time of trial. Why, we may wonder, would a loving God do such a thing?
The Gospels, however are very clear in saying that this is precisely what God did with Jesus, his beloved son. Before Jesus began his ministry, the Holy Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
And yet Jesus instructs us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”
There is an implicit recognition in this petition that we are weak; that somewhere there is a breaking point for every one of us. Where exactly that point will be varies from person to person; what temptation would mean for me is not necessarily the same for you. But there is a point where we all will break.
I was struck reading over the Gospel account of the night of Jesus’ arrest that this petition is found repeatedly on his lips. First at the Last Supper, when Jesus suddenly turns to Simon Peter and says,
“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)
In response to these words, Simon Peter declares his willingness, if necessary to go with Jesus to prison and to death. Simon Peter believes he can handle the time of trial. To which Jesus declares that no, before the cock has crowed, Peter will have already denied him three times.
Following the Last Supper, Jesus goes with his disciples to the Mount of Olives, and before going off by himself to pray, he says to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” (Luke 22:40b) He repeats the same admonishment a second time when he comes back and finds them sleeping. (22:46b)
I confess, I am confused. If what they are about to undergo isn’t a time of trial, then what, pray tell, is?
It is at precisely this point that Judas arrives with the high priests and the temple police and all hell breaks loose. Jesus says to the authorities come to arrest him, “this is your hour, and the power of darkness!” implying that God has given the devil a free hand at this moment in time. We know what follows. Jesus is taken away to be interrogated. The disciples run for cover. Peter does in fact deny three times that he knows, and then weeps bitterly.
We do not hear anything more about Peter or the other disciples until Easter Sunday. Jesus is crucified, with two thieves. He dies, and is buried in the tomb.
I want to return to those strange words Jesus spoke at the end of the Last Supper:
“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
In the course of the night, the disciples underwent a pretty intense shredding. Jesus anticipates Peter’s falling, but also his “turning back.” As one who has fallen, and yet risen again, he will be in a position to “strengthen” his brothers, for they have fallen, and risen, together.
So, did Peter’s faith fail? The faith he had in himself was lost, but that’s not the same as faith in the Lord, though it often gets mistaken as one in the same. He loses his arrogance, but in the process discovers the deeper faith buried within him.
Looming in the background of the events of this night is the figure of Judas. There is no further mention of Judas in Luke’s Gospel, but in the book of Acts, which was written by Luke, we are told that Judas ended up taking his own life. (1:19) Peter stumbled and rose again to discover the mercy of the Lord, and doing so became more transparent to the light of Christ. Judas stumbles, but in this life never arises again. He remains opaque.
We eventually all stumble, finding ourselves “sifted by Satan.” Sooner or later, we are broken. In some sense the breaking is necessary. In the time of trail we discover grace and mercy we did not know existed.
When Jesus is hanging on the cross, Luke tells us there are two thieves dying there with him. One thief, having stumbled through life, reaches out in his dying breath to a savior who declares to him that this day he will be with him in paradise. The other thief has stumbled, and ends his life stuck in the pit of bitterness and resentment.
And yet the good shepherd searches for the one lost sheep, and does not give up until he finds him.
Lord Jesus, as we remember your betrayal and your crucifixion, help us to trust that beyond every breaking, your grace is waiting for us. Help us in our shared breakings to strengthen one another. Amen.