The 7th Petition is where East does Meet West
You do not want east to meet west in the promise of Psalm 103 that the Lord has separated your sins from you as far as east is from west. Yet this is the place we do it most. In bringing the two together at the wrong time we martyr the petition which brings them together rightly. In the 7th Petition east does meet west.
"Deliver us from evil" summarizes all the "Thy" petitions and all the "us" and "our" petitions which go before. But they fade into the background by the time we pray "deliver us from evil." We forget about those first petitions which stress God's honor, His name, and His will. Instead we see our own will and reverse the order of the prayer. We begin at the end and never get to the first 3 petitions. We are set on one thing only: getting rid of the evil whether this contributes to God's honor, kingdom, or will or not (LW, 42, 75).
So evil is not the real focus here. No let your eyes pan out and see that deliverance from evil can only really happen if God's name is hallowed, His kingdom comes, and His will be done, while He gives us our daily bread, forgives our sins, and leads us not into temptation. If you focus on evil, you will be the paralyzed deer in the headlights. Or you'll have the horror movie view of evil; it's unstoppable, unbeatable, and unending.
The summary of what we ask for in the Lord's Prayer is our Father rescuing us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, giving us a blessed death, and graciously taking us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven. In other words, the only way the Lord's Prayer is answered is if the opposite happens to us as happened to Jesus in tonight's reading. And get this. It would've been easy to rescue Jesus.
The guy in charge of the whole thing wanted to release Jesus and keep Barabbas. He wanted Barabbas to suffer evil of body, soul, possessions, and reputation. He wanted to give Jesus the chance to die peacefully in His sleep as an old man. That would've been fair; that would've been just. Barabbas was in prison for riot and murder. Jesus was innocent. Barabbas had made many people suffer; Jesus had made no one. But just so the Father could answer our prayer for rescue, for a blessed end, and to go to heaven, the Father gave up His Son to every evil of body and soul; stripped Him not only of His possessions and reputation but clothes; gave Him a cursed not a blessed end, and turned a deaf ear to His prayers.
This petition is a summary that wraps up all our prayers in a request to be delivered from evil. This can be understood as evil in general. This is how the West views it. The Latin Church translates it as a neuter not a masculine as evil not Evil One. This is how Luther viewed it in the Small Catechism. But based on the two preceding petitions it is rather a remarkable prayer to ask to be delivered from evil in general. Follow me here.
In the 5th Petition we pray for forgiveness confessing in the explanation that we surely deserve nothing but punishment and in the 6th Petition we pray to be lead victoriously over temptation saying we are attacked by the Devil, the World, and our Flesh. So in the 5th Petition we say we deserve all manner of evil and in the 6th we say we get it. Isn't that the truth? We are Barabbas. There are reasons we should be in God's prison if not men's. We are dry, dry trees. The blessings of children we turn into curses. The more God looks at us the more our sins stick out like a pimple on prom night and we really do wish the mountains would fall on us and the hills would cover us. "Crucify, Crucify, Crucify," our own conscience cries against us.
Go back to the 5th and 6th Petition. Actually go back to the 4th where the "us" and "ours" start. Give us our daily bread leads to "and forgive us our trespasses" which leads to "and lead us not into temptation." The first 3 things we pray for ourselves are linked together with "ands." Then comes the 7th Petition and the "but." "But" definitely links the 7th to the 3 before, but it shows that the only way God can give us earthly and spiritual bread, the only way He can forgive us our sins, and give us victory over temptation is to deliver us from evil.
It's not a simple matter of giving, forgiving, or leading us not; but evil, manifest, real, ubiquitous, has to be dealt with, and as the explanation shows this can only be done in the way of gift and grace. "Give us a blessed end;" "graciously take us from this valley of sorrow." This petition is answered in the way of Barabbas or it's not answered at all.
We have no record that Barabbas ever expected or asked to be delivered from the evil that justly awaited him. He was as guilty as sin; as guilty as you are. He sat in that dark, dank cell with only the hope that he might die during the extreme whipping that proceeded crucifixion rather than after being nailed to a cross for days. But he might not even have known the worst of it. You do. The minutes of flogging, the moments of nailing, the hours or even days writhing on the cross were nothing compared to the eternal evil of hell, of burning alive and never burning to death, of suffering forever and ever and then suffering some more.
Hear the tromp of soldiers. Hear the cell clank open. Hear, "You're free to go." How, how can this be? How can I be delivered from all the evil that I surely deserve? The crowd chose Jesus not you. But you know it's really the Father who chose His Son to be flogged, nailed, crucified, damned, and die, rather than you. He chose to deliver you from evil at the cost of His Son. If He should ever fail to deliver you from evil now it would mean the wasting of His Son's holy blood, sweat, and tears.
This petition summarizes all that we pray for and it does it with the phrase "but deliver us from evil." The Western Latin church translates it as a neuter but the Eastern Greek church as a masculine. Deliver us from the Evil One. Our Small Catechism takes it as the West does, but our Large as the East. "In the Greek text this petition reads: Deliver or preserve us from the Evil One, or the Malicious One; and it looks as if Jesus were speaking of the devil.so that the entire substance of all our prayer is directed against our chief enemy. For it is he who hinders among us everything that we pray for: the name or honor of God, God's kingdom and will, our daily bread, a cheerful good conscience, etc." (III, 113).
This view lifts the wickedness we see all around us out of the realm of the accidental, and lets us know we're dealing with a hostile entity (Teaching Catechism, 299), not a mindless, random force. By teaching us to pray against the Evil One Jesus snaps us awake to what's really going on. Even by Jesus' time Satan and Devil had become personal names rather than descriptions of what they did. The names were so well worn that it was forgotten that Satan meant "tempter" and Devil meant "accuser." Pray to be delivered from the Evil One and you can't forget who you're really up against.
Our world, doesn't want a personal evil entity. In 1988, 94% of American believed in a personal God, but only 34% believed in a personal devil (Geisler, Signs, 95). The world doesn't mind a force, a dark side, a spiritual malevolence. Why? Because you can deal with that; you can ignore that. But even the Rolling Stones know better. They knew the Evil One was there in our Reading making sure Pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate. John 13 tells us as soon as Judas took the sop from Jesus "Satan entered into him." Listen to next week's Passion reading and you will hear Satan's temptations which began Jesus' ministry echo in the jeering of His enemies.
Yes, there is an Evil One, and he has been around a long, long, time. And you think the way he seeks for you to seal your fate is to indulge some sin, give into some temptation. No, it's the way of Pilate. It's the way of self-absolution. It's thinking that you can do something, give something, suffer something, say something that enables you to declare yourself innocent. I've said before that people will do anything rather than grieve. They'd rather fight with the living than grieve for the dead. It's also true that people will do virtually anything not to be crushed by guilt. They will excuse it; ignore it, atone for it, make up for it. One cure for the Evil One's ploy to get us to deal with guilt ourselves is evil in general.
This brings us to Simon of Cyrene. It was evil to Simon to be made to carry Jesus' cross. Surely he protested this evil as I do the evil of sickness, sadness, afflictions, problems put on my shoulders. This evil was messing with Simon's plan for a holiday even as evil in general messes with what I am looking forward to. And though in hindsight you can see it really was minor, at the time it feels so evil. Both are true. At the time the Evil One wants you to think that dead battery, that broken tooth, that extra shift is the biggest evil in all the world so you strain, fight, and rebel against it. But when you look back it really was nothing; however, God used that minor evil for a major good.
Look at Simon. Seized by rough Roman hands, the evil cross forcefully put on him, he was made to carry it behind Jesus. This evil made it so the only thing Simon could see was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. And I'm not stretching this point. Mark 15 tells us Simon was the father of Rufus and Alexander. Mark would only tell his readers that if they, being in the church, knew these two men who also were in the church.
What I am telling you is that the general evil that befell Simon in this life led to him being delivered from the Evil One. Simon saw the crucifixion, heard how guilty Barabbas was set free. Heard Jesus pronounce forgiveness and promise a penitent thief paradise. God used the general evil in Simon's life to lead him to victory over the Evil One to Himself in heaven. So when you pray, "But deliver us from evil," do so with the confidence that East is meeting West. The Father is using the general evil in your life to deliver you from the Evil One. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Vespers V (20140402); Passion Reading V, Lord's Prayer VII