“deliver us from evil”

9/11 continues to mark America’s psyche. It is one of those days many of us can remember just where we were. We still remember those who so tragically died, and we honor those who gave their lives saving others. It certainly was a day of stark evil.

Jesus taught his followers to pray regularly, “Deliver us from evil.” What that means can be understood only within the teachings of Jesus. It does not mean a kind of justice offered by this world which is based on a sense of what is commonly (hopefully) held to be right and implemented by might and force. That kind of justice seems to have its place in a limited sort of way. No, it is a justice based on what God has done in Jesus; a justice based on the cross. A justice mingled with mercy.

Of course the meaning of the phrase itself in the prayer surely includes a number of things. The phrase before it helps us better understand the heart of this petition: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” What is meant here perhaps more than anything else is a prayer to be delivered from an insidious evil within. The temptation or testing could simply mean something outward endangering us, from which we pray to be delivered. But much more likely this refers to the heart or inward disposition, what scripture might call the soul: our life, an inward inclination which plays out in our lives.

We are conquered by evil when we are overcome by it so as to succumb to it. In terms of following Jesus this means basically one thing: Being impacted by the evil so that we become evil ourselves. We end up hating evil doers, not forgiving the one who has done evil to us, holding it against them, and desiring to get even with them, even to put them in their proper place, under us.

The justice Jesus brings is an entirely different matter. It is in terms of the cross, and the level ground at the cross on which we all stand as sinners. It includes the prayer Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” It includes Jesus’ teaching that his followers are to love their enemies, pray for them and do good to them. As Paul stated: We as Jesus followers are not to be overcome by evil, but we’re to overcome evil with good.

And so, on this 9/11 here in the States, I will be praying this prayer today in terms of all enemies, especially those who have treated me as an enemy. Praying for them and for me, that I would be delivered from evil. As we await together the justice and mercy our Lord brings, and will bring to this world. Together in Jesus in this for the world.