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Three Readings on Today’s Gospel from Sts. Jerome, Hilary, and Thomas Aquinas

Readings on Sunday’s Gospel, Parable of the Marriage Feast

Parable of the Invitation to the Wedding by Bernardo Strozzi, 1636

Readings on Sunday’s Gospel, the Parable of the Tenants

Tissot, Son of the Vineyard

The Gospel for this Sunday is Matthew 21:33–43, the parable of the tenants. Here are Catholic commentaries on the Gospel:

St. Augustine Reads St. Matthew

Fra Angelico – The Conversion of St. Augustine

This week in the lectionary we read from the 11th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. The chapter focuses on John the Baptist. Here St. Augustine explains Christ’s teaching in Matthew 11:25-27, which follows right after Christ’s description of John’s prophecy.

We have heard the Son of God saying, I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth. What doth he confess to Him? Wherein doth he praise Him? Because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Who are the wise and prudent? Who the babes? What hath He hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes? By the wise and prudent, He signifieth those of whom St. Paul speaks; Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? Yet perhaps thou still askest who they are. They are they peradventure who in their much disputation concerning God, have spoken falsely of Him; who, puffed up by their own doctrines, could in no wise find out and know God, and who for the God whose substance is incomprehensible and invisible, have thought the air and sky to be God, or the sun to be God, or any thing which holds high place among the creatures to be God. For observing the grandeur and beauty and powers of the creatures, they rested in them, and found not the Creator.

St. Augustine, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament (A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Anterior to the Division of the East and West; Oxford; London 1844–1845)

The Two Ways Christ Continues His Mission: A Reflection for Mass

Enjoy this reflection on John 14:15–16, part of the Gospel reading from this Sunday’s Mass, taken from The Navarre Bible: Saint John’s Gospel.

John 14:15–16

Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.”

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Novation on Christ’s Humility: 4 Reflections for Good Friday

Passion of Jesus; sculpture of Crucifixion of Jesus observing Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus (known as Pieta). National Gallery of Slovenia. 14th and 15th century.

[Jesus Christ], who though he was in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men, and found in guise as a man; he humbled himself, being made obedient even so far as to death, and that the death of the cross: wherefore, also, God exalted him exceedingly, and gave him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord in the glory of God the Father.” — Phil 2. 6–11

Being in the Form of God

“Who though he was in the form of God,” he says. If Christ were man only, He would have been described as “in the image of God,” not “in the form of God”; for we know that man was made in the image, not in the form, of God. Who, then, is this, Who was made “in the form of God,” this—angel? Why, we do not read of the form of God even in connection with angels; there is but One, this Son of God, incomparable and noble above all, the Word of God, Who in all His works is like unto His Father, Himself working as His Father works—He alone is, as we have asserted, in the form of God the Father. Rightly has He been declared to be in the form of God, seeing that He is above all, and holds divine authority over every creature, and is God after the pattern of the Father; yet this is by gift from God, Who is peculiarly His Father, that He might be both God and Lord of all, and God, according to the form of God the Father, begotten and brought forth from Him.

“He thought it not Robbery”

He, then, though “He was in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God.” For although He bore in mind that He was God, of God the Father, He never compared or ranked Himself with God the Father, mindful that He was of His Father, and that He holds the place He does, because the Father had given it to Him. Hence it is that both before and after He took upon Him the body of flesh, and again, after His resurrection, He rendered, and does render, all obedience, in all things, to the Father. All this proves that He never thought of His Divinity as a kind of usurpation, that He should make Himself equal to God the Father; on the contrary, He was obedient and subject to His Father’s rule and will in all things, content even to take upon Himself the form of a slave—that is, to be made the Man of Whom we know—and the substance of flesh and body, which He took upon Himself at His birth, as it came to Him from the slavery of the sins of His forefathers according to His manhood.

“He emptied Himself”

It was then that He emptied Himself, not disdaining to take upon Himself the human frailty that His new condition of existence involved. For if He had been born as a man only, He would not have been emptied thereby. A man is made the greater, not emptied, by being born; he begins to be something which could not be his when he did not exist, so that he is not emptied, as we said, but rather is made the greater and the richer. It was not so with Christ. He is emptied by the very fact of His birth, in taking upon Him the form of a slave. How, then, is He man only? If He were, it would have been more true to say that He was enriched by the incident of His birth, not emptied; as a matter of fact, the authority of the Divine Word, condescending for a time to take upon Himself manhood, and laying aside the full exercise of His powers, lowers and deposes Himself, for so long as He bears the manhood which He has taken upon Himself. He empties Himself, so long as He stoops to bear insults and abuse, listens to blasphemies, and submits to indignities.

The “Name above Every Name”

Yet at once His humility bears noble fruit; for He received “the name which is above every name”—the name which assuredly we can only understand to be the name of God. For it belongs to God alone to be above all things; it follows that that name, which is above every name, is His only, Who is above all things. For the name which is above every name is the name of God; this name must then of necessity belong to Him, Who, though He had been in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God. Indeed, if Christ were not God, every knee of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, would not bow at His name; things visible and invisible, and the whole creation, would not be in subjection and subservience to a man. It would remember that it existed before man.

The Conclusion from the above Language

To sum up. Christ is said to be “in the form of God.” He is shown to have emptied Himself, even so far as to be born according to the flesh; He is declared to have received from the Father the name which is above every name; it is shown that every knee, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, bend and bow down at His name, and, strange as it may seem, it is asserted that this redounds to the glory of God the Father. It follows, that He is man, not only because He was made obedient even so far as to suffer death, and that the death of the cross, but not man only, seeing that from all these considerations, which shout aloud the Divinity of Christ, the Lord Jesus Christ is proved, in despite of the wishes of the heretics, to be God as well as man.

Get April’s free bookThe Navarre Bible: Saint Luke’s Gospel.

This excerpt is adapted from Novatian, The Treatise of Novatian on the Trinity, trans. Herbert Moore, Translations of Christian Literature: Series II: Latin Texts (London; New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; The Macmillan Company, 1919), 103.

Lead Us Not into Temptation, BUT… Finish the Sentence! (Part 2)

A guest post bFr Andrew Dalton, LC (andrew.dalton@upra.org).

This post is the third in a series of guest posts in response to Dr. Mark Ward’s post on the LogosTalk Blog that addressed Pope Francis’s recent comments on the translation of the Our Father .  The first guest post addressed the context of the Pope’s comments.  The second, and the first part of this one, focused more directly on the Our Father.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13). The Our Father ends with one two-part request. What therefore God hath joined, let not man put asunder. This unity is good news for the interpreter. If the sixth petition seems enigmatic, the seventh sheds light on its meaning. To understand the whole, we will need to understand four principle parts: 1) lead into 2) temptation, 3) deliver, and 4) evil.

In my previous post, we explored the first key term, eispherō (to lead into). I argued that Scripture does not distinguish God’s active and permissive will. Especially in light of Matthew 26:41, it is likely that, for Matthew, “lead us not into temptation” is interchangeable with “do not let us enter into temptation.”

In what follows, I shall have to address several open questions:

  1. What does peirasmos mean: trial, temptation, or both?
  2. How does our answer affect our understanding of eispherō?
  3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that the Greek verb eispherō also carries the force of “do not let us yield to temptation” (cf. CCC 2846). Can such a position be defended?
  4. For Matthew, the Tempter is clearly Satan. Does the Father tempt us too?
  5. Why does the Father sometimes lead us into temptation?
  6. What does “but deliver us from evil” mean with regard to the sixth petition?

The Second Key Term: Temptation (peirasmos)

The noun πειρασμός (peirasmos) comes from the verb πειράζω (peirazō), which means “to test or to tempt.” Two basic concepts underlie one Greek word, so the sixth petition means, 1) “do not bring us into trial,” 2) “do not bring us into temptation,” or 3) “do not bring us into trial or temptation.”

Clarifying the Concepts

It is important to distinguish these terms. A “trial” refers to a source of suffering. A “temptation” signifies a specific type of trial (or test). Every “temptation” implies a trial, but not every “trial” implies a temptation. A “trial” has no necessary relationship to sin, but “temptation” means enticement to sin. To experience temptation is not to commit sin, but to consent to temptation is. Discovering your sister’s secret piggy bank is one thing; stealing it is another. Temptation is not a cause of sin, but it is an occasion of sin. (No, the devil did not make you do it, but he did make it easy for you to do!) An effect depends upon a cause, but the relationship between an effect and an occasion is not one of dependence (or contingency). Temptation can and often does result in sin, but not necessarily. Temptation is spiritual danger (cf. 1 Cor 10:13); sin is spiritual harm or death (1 John 5:16-17).

An illustration will help clarify these concepts further. Temptation is like a slippery slope leading to a lava pit. To sin is to plummet into the pit. Falling into temptation is one thing; falling after temptation is another. Temptation should not be conflated with sin, but the concept of sin is included in its definition. Whereas the word “trial” bespeaks a state of suffering, “temptation” is always referential (or better, intentional), like a vector with a known destination: unless you counter it, it will conduce to sin. If grace is the way to virtue, temptation is the way to sin.

The graphic above can be read allegorically. Man holds a string in his Hand, the other end of which the Tempter tugs, hoping Man will take the “way in” to sin. The Deliverer offers a “way out” (ἔκβασις, ekbasis, cf. 1 Cor 10:13): Man must unhand Temptation and cling to Grace. Which to choose? That is the question. All the drama lies in the Hand—a fitting symbol for the human will. “If you choose, you can keep the commandments” (Sir 15:13). The enemy can only harm those who give consent, just as God can only crown the one who “competes according to the rules” (2 Tim 2:5). Consent, then, constitutes the crucial line between virtue and vice, between victory and the fall.

The graphic also helps correct a misreading of the sixth petition. Translations like “do not let us enter into temptation”—and its close relative, “do not let us fall into temptation”—should not be taken to mean, “do not let us fall into sin,” except by way of a fortiori extrapolation. If we pray, “Do not let us take the way to Vegas,” then we have all the more reason to pray, “Do not let us arrive to Vegas.” Nevertheless, the words of these two expressions are not equivalent, nor do they carry the same force. Only by inference can we speak to the moment of arrival, for the moment mentioned was that of departure.

Matthew’s Iconic Peirasmos Passage

Matthew gives his own picture of peirasmos: the garden of Gethsemane illuminates the sixth (and seventh) petition. How does this portrait shed light on the notion of “entering into” peirasmos?

Jesus takes a small band of apostles to the garden, among them James and John. These same brothers once asked for a share in Christ’s glory, to which Jesus responded, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matt 20:22). He went on to say, “You will drink my cup” (Matt 20:22). When will they? Matthew’s readers did not have to wait long to know. Indeed, Jesus commanded that the disciples share in his cup just moments before getting to Gethsemane. At the Last Supper, Jesus took a cup, which he called “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). Then, in the garden, the image of the cup reappears. Jesus prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39). Yet, this prayer he did not wish to pray alone.

Jesus told the disciples, “watch with me” (Matt 26:38). Again he instructed them, “pray that [ἵνα, hina] you may not enter into temptation” (Matt 26:41). Now, pious preaching has sometimes assumed that the disciples must watch and pray in order to console Christ. Perhaps that is part of his purpose, yet the reason Jesus gives is different. They must pray primarily for their sake, not his. Peirasmos is at hand, and unless they are vigilant and prayerful, they will enter into it.

But what does it mean to enter in? The circumstances clarify the answer. The disciples are seduced by sleep, again and again. As they enter into temptation, their peirasmos begins, but no fall is automatic or immediate. Jesus’ repeated pleas suggest that there is still time to escape what temptation tends toward—namely, sin—if only they would heed his voice.

Yes, Jesus brings his disciples to the slippery slope, as it were. One might say that he “leads” them into a place or period of peirasmos. In the measure they persist in slumber, despite divine exhortation, they are “yielding” more completely, “entering” more deeply into temptation.

Do Not Let Us Yield to Temptation

Reread in this light, “lead us not into temptation,” is not equivalent to “do not let us sin.” The expression, “in (times of) temptation, do not let us fall” is equally wrong. Falling “into” (εἰς, eis) temptation marks the beginning of a process; falling “in” temptation could mark the end of one (as in falling “when” tempted).  In the Our Father, on the other hand, we pray, “do not let us yield an inch along the slippery slope; do not let us give the devil a chance to work on us (cf. Eph 4:27); do not allow us to take the way that leads to sin” (cf. CCC 2846).

Who is the Tempter?

Having analyzed two key terms (eispherō and peirasmos), we are better poised to consider the problem of the sixth petition: if “it is necessary that temptations come” (Matt 18:7), and if sometimes God does “lead into” the place of temptation (Matt 4:1), why does Jesus teach his disciples to pray, “Father, do not bring us into temptation?”

But does the Father tempt us? To answer, we have to put the key terms together.

Two actions (leading into and tempting) leave room for two agents (a leader and a tempter). Alternatively, one agent may accomplish both actions. Therefore, the sixth petition is open to two possible interpretations: (1) Father, lead us not into the place where you tempt us; or (2) Father, lead us not into the place where the enemy tempts us. Which interpretation is right?

Scripture clearly shows which interpretation is wrong. According to James 1:13, God himself tempts no one. The verb in that verse is πειράζω (peirazō). God is never the agent who entices someone to sin. That is not to say, however, that God never leads anyone into a time or place of enticement. In fact, God the Spirit did “lead” Jesus into the desert “to be tempted by the devil” (Matt 4:1). Yes, “tempted”—not “tested”—is the proper translation (pace Yaceczko), as the devil’s commands make clear (Matt 4:6, 9). If some commentators think it “absurd” that “one of God’s creatures could ‘tempt’ him,” it is because they fail to consider a Tempter who fails in a vain pursuit. Clearly, God led at least one person into temptation. Now, he is not the cause of the tempting, but he can be the cause of the leading in. Dr. Ward puts it simply: “God can lead us into temptation without being the tempter.”

This distinction has escaped some great minds. Donald Hagner argues that “testing”—not “temptation”—“is to be preferred because God does not lead into temptation (cf. Jas 1:13).” This is a non sequitur. Unfortunately, D. A. Carson and John Nolland use the same faulty reasoning. Moreover, James 1:13 does not say “God does not lead into temptation.” Rather, it says, “God tempts no one.” The mistake is to assume that the tempter must be the one who is leading into temptation. Once the non-necessity of this identification is noted, James 1:13 offers no support for “testing” in lieu of “temptation.”

To his credit, Dr. Ward avoids this error. Nevertheless, when he suggests that the Pope try the translation, “Do not lead us into hard testing” or “Lead us not into trials,” he does so by appealing to some commentators who use deficient reasoning to reach their conclusions. Now, those conclusions are true—i.e., we can rightly pray, “do not bring us into the test” (as Catholics in Hong Kong will attest)—because the word peirasmos carries this general sense, and because this is one dimension of the prayer’s meaning. (In passing, I should say that “testing” is preferable to “the test” since there is no article in Greek.)

There is no reason, however, to exclude the specific meaning (“temptation”). Et-et, non aut-aut. Moreover, the trial that we are most interested in not being led into is the trial of temptation. For this reason, the traditional translation is better than “testing” or “trial.” Whereas “hard testing” is directly associated with suffering, “temptation” is directly oriented toward sin. When facing the latter, we risk greater loss. The God who protects us from “testing” is big, but the God who keeps us from “temptation” is bigger.

If translators feel constrained to use only one word, “temptation” is better than “trial.” Still, the Italian adage is true: “traduttore, traditore,” which I (traitorously) render, “every translator is a traitor.” Every translation presupposes and presents an interpretation. Either translation of peirasmos—“trial” or “temptation”—reduces the semantic scope of the original word. To avoid limiting the original affirmation, we could pray, “lead us not into trial or temptation.”

We should pause to contemplate what this implies. If both words are viable translations—such that “trial” or “temptation” in the place of peirasmos would render a true statement—then God can lead us into trials and temptations. It is timely to mention that in Greek, “lead us not” (μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς, mē eisenenkēs), is an aorist subjunctive, not a present one. This may suggest that the one who prays is aware that God will not always keep away every temptation.

The toughest question is, “Why would our heavenly Father ever want to lead us into either trial or temptation?” The seventh petition will cast considerable light upon this confusion, but so will a Matthean metaphor for temptation. Let us begin with the latter.

Matthew’s Metaphor for Temptation

In this study, we are trying to surmise how Matthew understands the expression, “lead us not into temptation.” Ordinary prose is only one tool an author uses to describe reality, and so, in addition to peirasmos and peirazō, we should examine what synonyms and metaphors of temptation Matthew employs. What does his language show? Is there a difference between a cause and an occasion of sin? If so, which is temptation?

Matthew himself helps answer these questions, and modern translations have detected the answer. To explain how this is the case, first note some synonyms of “temptation.” Modern dictionaries list several: e.g. “enticement, attraction, seduction.” Matthew, however, uses none of these. Yet, in Matthew 18:7-8, he does use a figure: the “stumbling block,” (σκάνδαλον, skandalon) and its corresponding verb, “to make to stumble” (σκανδαλίζω, skandalizō).

An overly literal translation of this passage might read as follows:

Woe to the world from the stumbling-blocks! for there is a necessity for the stumbling-blocks to come, but woe to that man through whom the stumbling-block doth come! And if thy hand or thy foot doth cause thee to stumble, cut them off and cast from thee (Matt 18:7f, Young’s Literal Translation).

Most translations, however, rightly see in Matthew’s “stumbling block” a metaphorical reference to “sin” even though the word never appears: ta skandala are “temptations to sin,” and skandalizō is “to cause to sin.” Consider the ESV translation:

Woe to the world for temptations to sin [τῶν σκανδάλων, tōn skandalōn]! For it is necessary that temptations [τὰ σκάνδαλα, ta skandala] come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation [τὸ σκάνδαλον, to skandalon] comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin [σκανδαλίζει, skandalizei], cut it off and throw it away (Matt 18:7f ESV).

Consider how Matthew’s metaphor reveals a truth about the causal dynamics of temptation. How does a “stumbling block” (skandalon) “cause” one to fall? Does a block of stone tackle the passerby? Does an inanimate object positively cause one to stumble? Obviously not. Granted, if placed in the middle of the road, such a stone makes it easy for one to fall. To be precise, it is the occasion, not the cause, of stumbling. This truth shines through in one Spanish translation of skandalizō: “And if your hand or foot is an occasion for you to sin, cut it off” (Si, pues, tu mano o tu pie te es ocasión de pecado, córtatelo) (cf. Matt 18:8 in the Biblia de Jerusalén Latinoamericana).

Notice what translators have recognized: 1) ta skandala can be rendered “temptations to sin,” even if the words are not literally equivalent; 2) this choice is justified because Matthew has described an occasion for falling, viz, a stumbling block that occasions one to trip; 3) therefore, translators understand “temptation” to be an occasion of sin.

One might object, “What about some translations that read, ‘And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away’” (Matt 18:8)? Surely, temptation is seen as the cause of sin.

The conclusion does not necessarily follow. I have no contention with this kind of “overreach” precisely because hagiographers have a habit of dodging the distinction between the active and passive will. Given the scenario given by the evangelist, it is clear that this so-called “cause” is, in fact, no more than an “occasion.” If not, why do so many stones fail to result in a fall? Here, “cause” carries the force of “occasion.”

In this knowledge, “lead us not into temptation” is equivalent to “do not let us take the road riddled with the stumbling blocks,” i.e., “lead us not into an occasion of sin.” Strictly speaking, it is not equivalent to “lead us not into a cause of sin.” Even further removed is the expression, “do not let us sin.” These requests might be good, pious and salutary, but they are not what Matthew’s text has expressed, nor do they reflect his own understanding of temptation.

In passing, we should note a confirmation of the thesis presented in the previous post, namely that Scripture often uses active-will language where there is no active-will reality. The stone that “scandalizes us does not scheme, much less execute, our fall, but it does sometimes occasion our collapse. Of course, many times we pass it by unscathed. There is no necessary causal relationship (contingency) between the effect (the fall) and the occasion (the stumbling block/temptation).

The Third Key Term: Evil (ponēros)

Let us segue out of the sixth petition and into the seventh—“but deliver us from evil”—which finishes the sentence. This commonplace nomenclature of “sixth petition” and “seventh petition” is a mere rhetorical convenience. Together they form one complete thought.

Since we have just examined peirasmos, which can have the broad meaning “trial,” it is timely to examine “evil,” which is similar. I find three Matthean synonyms of peirasmos, understood as “trial”: trouble (κακία, kakia), affliction (μαλακία, malakia), and evil (πονηρός, ponēros). This last word appears in the Our Father. What range of meanings does it have?

Matthew uses the word ponēros to refer to wicked people (Matt 5:39, 45; 12:34f; 13:49; 22:10), wicked thoughts (Matt 9:4), wicked dispositions (Matt 20:15), sickness (Matt 6:23), suffering (Matt 5:11), an enemy (Matt 5:38), or Satan (Matt 13:19, 38).

No single English translation can reproduce the rich ambiguity of the Greek: ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ, alla rhysai hēmas apo tou ponērou. “But deliver us from evil” is only one possibility of the text. The form πονηροῦ (ponērou) could be the genitive of the neuter πονηρόν (ponēron, evil), or it could be the genitive of the masculine πονηρός (ponēros, Evil One). Interestingly, the Nova Vulgata opts for the latter (sed libera nos a Malo, cf. Matt 6:13). Thus, there is another possible link between the peirasmos and ponērou: the “evil one” (cf. Matt 13:38) is called “the tempter” (ὁ πειράζων, ho peirazōn) only in Matthew 4:3.

For Matthew, then, the Tempter is clearly Satan. But could the Father be one too? Matthew does not explicitly answer this question, but we do find light in the New Testament.

God never wants our spiritual harm (sin) because he loves us, and “to love” means to will the good of another. Yet, God sometimes wants to expose us to spiritual danger (peirasmos) for the same reason (cf. Jas 1:2-4). To revisit a metaphor, God sometimes leads his people to the slippery slope, not to destroy them, but “that he might humble [them] and test [them], to do [them] good in the end” (Deut 8:16).

If it seems cruel for a father to treat his child in this way, we should recall Paul’s promise: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).

Paul explicitly recognizes a divine allowance. Apparently, God will let you to be tempted (cf. also Matt 4:1, 18:7), but “he will not allow [ἐάσει, easei] you be tempted beyond your ability.” Rather, he will supply you the grace to overcome temptation: “with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape.” Here, the emphatic adverb καί (kai), meaning “also,” suggests that God does leave room for the Tempter to operate, but not so much that the fall is inevitable.

Still, the fall is possible and, de facto, frequent. If this divine allowance results in our defeat, contrary to his intention, why does he allow it? To answer that question, we must analyze the last term, “to deliver.”

The Fourth Key Term: Deliver (rhyomai)

The verb “deliver” (ῥῦσαι, rhysai) comes from the verb ῥύομαι (rhyomai), which has two basic meanings: 1) to spare or 2) to rescue. Therefore, the seventh petition means, 1) “spare us evil/the evil one,” or 2) “rescue us from evil/the evil one,” or 3) “spare and rescue us from evil/the evil one.”

An illustration will help distinguish these two meanings of “deliver.” Two ships bound for London were boarding passengers—one in New York, the other in New Jersey. Hearing news of inclement weather, the captain in New York canceled his trip, and the passengers went home. The captain in New Jersey, however, decided to set sail. Two days later, a storm hit, and the ship sunk. A team rescued only one passenger. The story illustrates two ways of being delivered. The passengers from New York were spared the storm; in this way, they were delivered. Among the New Jersey passengers, none were spared the storm, but one was rescued. In other words, “spare” and “rescue” are two different ways of being “delivered.”

Deliver as Spare

Let us consider the first possibility, “deliver” as “spare.” The psalms certainly give a precedent for this meaning. “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, […] that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine” (Ps 33:18f, cf. LXX).  Many prayers for deliverance seem to envision the evasion of evil: e.g., “Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord! I have fled to you for refuge” (Ps 143:9). Now, if the enemy on the horizon happens to be the prince of demons, there will be especially strong incentive to pray, “Spare us the evil one,” i.e., “keep him far away!”

Deliver as Rescue

Sometimes, however, “deliver” does not signify “spare” at all. Consider Psalm 34:19 (cf. LXX): “Many are the evils of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Obviously, one who experiences “many evils” cannot be “spared” them. In this context, “deliver” means “rescue,” and not “spare.”

Which meaning of “deliver” best fits the Our Father: “spare,” “rescue,” or both? The answer will need to accommodate the adversative conjunction, “but” (ἀλλὰ, alla), that begins the seventh petition.

Accommodating Alla

“Lead us not into peirasmos, but (alla) spare us evil.” Does this formulation make sense? Not really. The first and second halves are too similar to make sense of the adversative conjunction, which signals some sort of antithesis. If this were the best reading, another conjunction would work better: “keep us from peirasmos,” and “keep us from evil.” I suspect this misreading lurks behind the Spanish mistranslation, “and deliver us from evil” (y líbranos de mal).

If ponēros means “the evil one,” however, “spare” could make sense of the conjunction. To explain, imagine two doors: behind the first one lies testing/temptation, behind the second one, Satan himself. You might be inclined to pray, “Father, lead me not into door one, but—please, please—spare me door two!” In other words, the adversative conjunction could contemplate a “worst-case scenario” (cf. France).

Though logical, I doubt this is the primary meaning of the seventh petition. We must consider the possibility that “deliver” means “rescue.”

“Rescue us from evil/the evil one” makes much better sense, especially in light of our analysis of temptation. Temptation is the occasion of sin, and de facto often leads to sin. Temptations must come (cf. Matt 18:7), and we might yield to them, fall down, or even die spiritually (cf. Luke 15:24; Col 2:13; 1 John 5:16). We might commit all kinds of ungodly sins, but hope should never die. For “the Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Rom 11:26).

The seventh petition, therefore, goes beyond the notion of protection from peirasmos and even addresses sin. In this way, the seventh petition extends and intensifies the meaning of the sixth. One very important dimension of the seventh petition (unmentioned by the sixth) echoes the prayer of the psalmist, “Deliver me from all my transgressions” (Ps 39:8). As seen above, if the sixth petition can reach this idea at all, it is only by way of inference, i.e., a fortiori extrapolation.

In sum, the sixth and seventh petitions convey the following: “Father, lead us not into peirasmos, but (if it is not possible, given that some temptation must come) rescue us from evil/the evil one.” This reading accounts best for the adversative conjunction that binds the sixth and seventh petitions together. Therefore, the seventh petition is best taken to mean, “Father, if and when we find ourselves in any spiritual danger, whether hard testing or temptation, rescue us from whatever risk remains and from whatever damage is actually done.”

“Rescue us from evil/the evil one” also makes better sense in light of Christ’s own story.  

In Gethsemane, Jesus Taught Us to Pray, “Rescue Us.”  

Jesus’ own life story lends further support to the idea that “deliver us” in the seventh petition means “rescue us” more than “spare us” (though the worst-case scenario remains one possibility of the text). He taught his disciples how to pray not only with his words, but also by his behavior.

In Gethsemane, Christ commanded Peter to pray that he may not enter into peirasmos. Yet, the Father did not spare Jesus death-like sorrow or the fury of the cross, despite his prayer. “My father,” he prayed, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39). Jesus’ request parallels the seventh petition. Now, as we have seen, “but rescue us from evil” follows a tacit recognition that some peirasmos must come, i.e., that it is not always possible to be spared every storm. Jesus recognizes this fact quite explicitly when he adds, “nevertheless [πλήν, plēn], not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39).

One Matthean redaction of Mark’s Gethsemane pericope is especially worth noting for our study. In Mark, Jesus prays, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36; cf. Matt 26:39). Matthew alters his source in such a way that his readers hear more easily an echo of the Our Father. Only in Matthew does Jesus add, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matt 26:42). This redaction may give us a window into Matthew’s mind.

Matthew’s reference to the final “thou-petition” (cf. Matt 6:10b) endorses the methodology of juxtaposing and comparing these two pericopes, that each may be interpreted in the light of the other.

     Matt 6:10 γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου

     Matt 26:42 γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου

Given the verbatim phraseology, it is likely that Matthew interpreted the Our Father in light of Christ’s agony. Moreover, it underscores the inexorable unity of the Lord’s Prayer, from beginning to end. Ever trustful in his Father, Jesus endured peirasmos (and even physical death), but the Father did not deny the anguished supplications of his son. Jesus knew he could always appeal to his Father (cf. Matt 26:36). As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews makes clear, early Christians read the agony in just this light: “[Jesus] was heard because of his reverence” (Heb 5:7).

Yet, one might ask, if Jesus’ prayer was accepted by the Father, why then was he not delivered from the cross?

He was! He just was not spared. Rather, he was rescued. God raised him from the dead (cf. Matt 28:6). For Jesus, “deliverance” meant post mortem resurrection.

What a sobering truth for every disciple who takes up the Lord’s Prayer!

Conclusion: Praying the Our Father with Matthean Minds

In the sixth petition, we ask for protection from temptation, not to enter into it, not to yield to its seductive power. Moreover, we ask to be kept far away from trial, aware that we will not be fully spared—and in this, the prayer of the disciple parallels Christ’s. And we finish the thought with a request for rescue from spiritual danger and deliverance from spiritual death (the seventh petition). In this way, our two-part petition parallels our Lord’s prayer in the garden.

If Christ endured trial and temptation (cf. Heb 4:15), even a cruciform peirasmos, and if he is “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6), then we who are his followers must be ready “to take up [our] cross” (Matt 16:24). Indeed, our whole life in this world is peirasmos (cf. Job 7:1), and Jesus prayed, not that the Father “take [us] out of [it], but that [he] keep [us] from the evil one” (John 17:15). Per crucem, ad lucem!

To conclude, let us summarize the general sense of the Lord’s perfect prayer, as given by the Gospel of Matthew, having studied it in context.

Heavenly Father, spare us trial, temptation, and the evil one. But, if you see fit that we be exposed to some spiritual danger, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Do not let us enter into temptation. Some trials and temptations are bound to beset us, yet not one which you do not allow. If we do yield an inch along the slippery slope of temptation, rescue us before we fall. If we fall, then deliver us from our sin.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Fr. Andrew Dalton, LC teaches Biblical Greek and Hebrew while pursuing doctoral studies at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. He obtained a licentiate degree in Biblical Theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and a post-graduate certificate in Shroud Studies. A board member of Othonia, he lectures internationally on the Turin Shroud and The Biblical Theology of the Passion for the Science and Faith Institute in Rome.

The very stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone

 The very stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare to enter more deeply into Matthew 21:33–46 at worship, here is an excerpt from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew.


42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it. 44 And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one, it will crush him.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 But when they tried to arrest him, they feared the multitudes, because they held him to be a prophet.[1]

Jesus saith to them. Here, the confirmation of the judgment is related. Firstly, a passage of Scripture is cited; and secondly, its explanation is related. He says, Have you never read in the Scriptures (this is found in Psalm 117:22): The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? And He points out four things. Firstly, He points out their reprobation; secondly, He points out their dignity; thirdly, He points out the reason for their reprobation; and fourthly, He points out their admiration. He says, The stone, etc. The stone is Christ, who is called a stone based upon many similitudes. “Behold I will lay a stone in the foundations of Sion, a corner stone,” etc., (Is. 28:16). The builders are the Apostles. Let every man take heed how he builds. Hence, that rock, which they rejected, meaning which they cast away, the same is become, meaning is constituted, the head of the corner, meaning the head of the Jews and the Gentiles. Hence, He was made the head of the Church. But they could say: He made Himself the head; for that reason, He says: By the Lord this has been done. “The right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength” (Ps. 117:16). And what sort of exaltation is this? And it is wonderful in our eyes; “Behold ye among the nations, and see: wonder, and be astonished: for a work is done in your days, which no man will believe when it shall be told” (Hab. 1:5). Their dignity was so great that it could only have been produced through the grace of God. “By grace you are saved through Christ” (Eph. 2:8). Afterwards, He expounds the passage; and He makes two conclusions. Firstly, He expounds what was said in the parable; and secondly, He expounds what was said in the passage. It is said, therefore, Therefore I say to you that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, meaning Sacred Scripture, because you will lose the understanding of Sacred Scripture. “He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart and be converted: and I should heal them” (Jn. 12:40). Or, you will lose your authority over the Church of the faithful, because their glory has been transferred to others. And shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof. “Behold I have given him for a witness to the people, for a leader and a master to the Gentiles. Behold thou shalt call a nation, which thou knewest not: and the nations that knew not thee shall run to thee” (Is. 55:4–5). But how shall it be given to them? Above, it was said that He let it out, here, however, that it is given: because when it does not yield fruit, it is said to be let out, or rented; but when it is given, then it bears fruit. He indicates a twofold punishment, And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken. It is expounded, according to Jerome, as follows: He falls upon a rock, meaning Christ, who holds the faith from Him, that is to say, from Christ, but falls by sin because he acts against Him. The reason why sinners fall is because they do not have charity. But on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder. Christ, however, falls upon unbelievers. There is this difference, namely, that when a vessel falls upon a rock, the vessel is not broken because of the rock, but because of the way that it fell, inasmuch as it fell from a greater height; but when a rock falls upon a vessel, it breaks it according to the weight of the rock. So a man, when he falls upon a rock, which is Christ, then he is broken according to the greatness of the sin; but when he becomes an unbeliever, he is completely crushed. Or someone falls upon a rock when he perishes by his own free choice; but then a rock, in fact, falls upon him, when Christ punishes him, and then the whole man is crushed. “I shall beat them as small as the dust before the wind” (Ps. 17:43). The time of wickedness follows, And seeking to lay hands on him, they feared the multitudes, because they held him as a prophet. And the meaning of these words is clear.[2]


To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthewavailable this month at a special discount.

[1] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 21:42–46). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
[2] Thomas Aquinas. (2012). Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew. (P. M. Kimball, Trans.) (pp. 696–706). Dolorosa Press.

By what authority are you doing these things?

"By what authority are you doing these things?" (Mt 21:23)

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare to enter more deeply into Matthew 21:23–32 at worship, here is an excerpt from The Navarre Bible commentary series.


The authority of Jesus is questioned

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you a question; and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men,’ we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.[1]

21:23–27. When the chief priests and elders ask “By what authority are you doing these things?” they are referring both to his teaching and to his self-assured public actions—throwing the traders out of the temple, entering Jerusalem in triumph, allowing the children to acclaim him, curing the sick, etc. What they want him to do is to prove that he has authority to act in this way or to admit openly that he is the Messiah. However, Jesus knows that they are not well-intentioned and he declines to give them a direct answer; he prefers to put a question to them that forces them to make their own attitude clear. He seeks to provoke them into examining their consciences and changing their whole approach.

Parable of the two sons

32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.[1]

21:32. St John the Baptist had shown the way to sanctification by proclaiming the imminence of the Kingdom of God and by preaching conversion. The scribes and Pharisees would not believe him, yet they boasted of their faithfulness to God’s teaching. They were like the son who says “I will go” and then does not go; the tax collectors and prostitutes who repented and corrected the course of their lives will enter the Kingdom before them: they are like the other son who says “I will not”, but then does go. Our Lord stresses that penance and conversion can set people on the road to holiness even if they have been living apart from God for a long time.[2]


To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request The Navarre Bible: Saint Matthew’s Gospelavailable this month at a special discount.

[1] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 21:23–27). San Francisco: Ignatius Press
[2
] Saint Matthew’s Gospel. (2005). (pp. 142–143). Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers

 

So the last will be first, and the first last

So the last will be first, and the first last.

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare to enter more deeply into Matthew 20:1–16 at worship, here is the passage and an excerpt from The Navarre Bible commentary series.


“For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” [1]

Parable of the labourers in the vineyard

This parable is addressed to the Jewish people, whom God called at an early hour, centuries ago. Now the Gentiles are also being called—with an equal right to form part of the new people of God, the Church. In both cases it is a matter of a gratuitous, unmerited, invitation; therefore, those who were the “first” to receive the call have no grounds for complaining when God calls the “last” and gives them the same reward—membership of his people. At first sight the labourers of the first hour seem to have a genuine grievance—because they do not realize that to have a job in the Lord’s vineyard is a divine gift. Jesus leaves us in no doubt that although he calls us to follow different ways, all receive the same reward—heaven.[2]


To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request The Navarre Bible: Saint Matthew’s Gospelavailable this month at a special discount.

[1] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 20:1–16). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
[2] Saint Matthew’s Gospel. (2005). (p. 135). Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers.

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