Needy People Need to Be Delivered from Evil
First, we have a problem of definition. I'm not as perplexed as Google is on this score, but close. In 2000, they adopted the slogan "Do no evil"; nine years later their CEO said in an interview, "We don't know what the definition of good or evil is" (Eric Schmidt, NPR, "Marketplace", 7/7/09). Christians certainly know that much. However, when our Lord teaches us to pray "Deliver us from evil", needy people need help defining what it means to be delivered and what evil we're asking to be delivered from.
Is it evil things or an evil one? The Western, Latin, church took it as a neuter and so as evil things. The Eastern, Greek, church took it as a masculine and so prayed to be delivered from the Evil One, the Devil, Satan (Peters, Lord's Prayer, 174-6). How do you think Luther took it? Yup, he took it as both. In the Small Catechism, Luther emphasized being delivered from all kinds of evil. In the Large Catechism, he concentrated more on the devil himself. He begins by referencing the Greek: "In the Greek this petition reads, Deliver us from the Evil One, or the Wicked One.' This petition seems to be speaking of the devil as the sum of all evil in order that the entire substance of our prayer may be directed against our arch-enemy" (LC, III, 113). And again, "Therefore there is nothing for us to do on earth but to pray constantly against this arch-enemy" (Ibid., 116).
So, we're praying to be delivered from both evil things and the Evil One, but in our Confessions and Scripture too, the emphasis is on the Evil One. In the parable of the wheat and weeds, this exact phrase is rendered the Evil One. The Evil One is the one who sows the weeds among the wheat. In our Large Catechism, we confess he does far eviler than that. "Since the devil is not only a liar but also a murderer, he incessantly seeks our life and vents his anger by causing accidents and injury to our bodies. He breaks many a man's neck and drives others to insanity; some he drowns, and many he hounds to suicide or other dreadful catastrophes" (III, 115).
When surveyed Americans consistently claim to believe in God in percentages from 85-95. And they consistently claim not to believe in a personal devil, the Evil One, by anywhere from 50% up to as much as 65%. That's funny because while many people over the years have demanded I make a case for the existence of God; no one has ever demanded I prove the Devil exists. It's good to be reminded in a daily prayer that the Old Evil Foe is the main threat and not some nebulous, impersonal evil.
However, the real danger is not in taking it only one way or the other, but in seeing this petition as all about you. Helmut Thielicke, the German Lutheran pastor who stayed in Germany during WW II, describes this well. "Very often in our anxious prayers we are not really speaking with God, but with the danger. I am not really thinking of the Helper; I am thinking of the approaching missile. Even in our prayers in [time of] danger, we are riveted to ourselves" (Thielicke Trilogy, 229).
It gets worse; most of us would take deliverance from evil things cancer, marriage problems, kid problems regardless if God' name was hallowed, His kingdom came, or His will was done. We pray when in panic attack mode. "I don't care about anything else just deliver me from this approaching evil, rescue be out of this evil thing; now, do it now. It must happen now." All we see in this state is the evil, we've totally lost site of the Deliverer's Name, His Kingdom, His Will.
I have to think this was the mode the disciples were in tonight in the Passion Reading. As they saw the surging blood-thirsty mob, as they heard its bloodcurdling "Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!", and witnessed Pilate's feeble attempts to release Jesus, all they could think, utter, beg, pray was, "Please release Him; please release Him." They didn't have, okay maybe they did have, but I wouldn't have had a word or thought for the Name, Kingdom, or Will Jesus taught me to pray for. Even non-religious, even anti-religious, shows and movies capture these panic prayers accurately. They're only and all about your deliverance.
The truth of the matter is that you can't be delivered or rescued "from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation" apart from the first 3 Petitions being answered or for that matter the last 3. Do you see how the last three are linked? Jesus teaches us to link "Give us this day our daily bread" by telling us to pray "And forgive us our trespassesAnd lead us not into temptation." But when we get to "deliver us from evil" it's not just another addition. We aren't taught to pray "And deliver us from evil". No, we're taught to pray, "But deliver us from evil." That means you're being delivered every day from evil by God giving you daily bread, forgiving your sins, and not leading you into temptation.
How can I be so sure? Because one, Jesus tells you to pray this prayer daily, and two, that's what He bought and paid for on Good Friday. Pilate doesn't ask the crowd rhetorically "what crime has this Man committed" that He should be crucified as the insert translates. He asks what base act, untoward thing, worthless thing has He committed? Pilate after thoroughly examining Jesus can confidently tell a mob that He not only is not guilty of any evil, any crime, but of anything untoward. Could you stand before any single person and say that about yourself? Of course not, "for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment."
Jesus got what we deserve. All men should hate us; they did hate Jesus. The government should sentence us for the crimes we're guilty of; it sentenced innocent Jesus in our place. We should be turned over to a company of soldiers for the downright evil things we might have done, certainly said, and positively thought. We're not; Jesus was. Read the disturbing accounts of tyrants or dictators betrayed into the hands of the mob. As the blood spatters and the flesh tears, they act like how could this be happening to them? Imagine how God in flesh and blood, innocent of even anything low-brow, suffered under His unjust punishment, guilt, and shame? He allowed Himself to be overcome by evil to the point of death, so that we might pray: Deliver us from evil and be answered.
This petition to be delivered from evil things and the Evil One is a summary of the entire Lord's Prayer. That's what we say in the Small Catechism. "We pray in this petition, in summary" And who is the subject throughout? Not us. We're the ones who need delivering, rescuing, and taking. Who is the subject of the verbs rescue, give, and take? The One we confess will "rescue us from every evil of body and soul"; the One we pray to "give us a blessed end" and to "graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven", is none other than "Our Father who art in heaven". The prayer comes full circle with the Father in the center. The Father rescues us "from every evil of body and soul" by what will also hallow His name; further His kingdom; and fulfill His will while giving us our daily bread, forgiveness and guarding us from temptation.
Sometimes, often times, most times with needy people, the only way for God to keep us focused on Him and not on the incoming missile of danger or evil, or on the ever present me, myself, and I, is to keep us under a cross of suffering that we think evil. Don't you think that's how it was for Simon of Cyrene? He "was on his way in from the country". This was the Passover festival. He was probably on his way to see family, to enjoy festivities, to happiness, and then the Romans seized him and put a cross on him and made him carry it right behind Jesus; it specifically says that.
This certainly had to be evil to this man. Archelogy studies tell us the cross weighed between 70 and 90 pounds. If it was on you, your head was pushed down, and you could only see what was right in front of you. Simon lifted his eyes and all he can see is Jesus only. He sees and hears everything about Jesus. The evil cross upon his back makes this so. And evidently it bore fruit onto salvation. For Mark tells us that his sons Alexander and Rufus were still in the church while he was writing. Would Simon looking back at the evil cross he bore say nevertheless that he had been delivered from evil? I think so.
The ultimate evil we're asking to be delivered from is an evil death. Don't be under the mistaken impression of the country singer who thinks all he has to do is to live and die or live until he dies. He sings as if the death thing takes care of itself. In medieval times, where death wasn't hidden away in hospitals but in your home, they knew there was an art to dying. They even had manual called the Ars Moriendi which translates "The Art of Dying". It predated Luther by 70-100 years.
There is an art to dying and only one who has been there and done that, can teach it. And the only one who fits that bill is the Man Jesus. He has been through death and the grave and came back to tell about it. And He teaches us to pray daily "But deliver us from evil." The greatest evil one of all is the Devil and he held the power of death until Christ defeated him. This is what Heb. 2:14-15 says, "Since the children have flesh and blood, Jesus too shared in their humanity so that by His death he might destroy him who held the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."
God in Christ can give to fallen men a blessed end because He didn't get one in order to give us one. His end was being betrayed by friends, ridiculed by enemies, shamed by soldiers, and disowned by His Father. He died as a damned, guilty sinner should, so you don't have to. You can have a blessed end. And see how we define that. A blessed end is seeing this life as a valley of sorrow that we are graciously being taken out of. Our death is the big rescue, the grand deliverance. No matter how ugly it may look, no matter how painful it is, no matter how guilty you feel, Death is not your master. Death is your Savior's servant to liberate you from all things evil and the Evil one. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Midweek V (20180314); Lord's Prayer 7th Petition, Passion Reading 5