Recently, Pope Francis observed that “And lead us not into temptation” doesn’t make sense, because it implies that God’s been tempting us with bad stuff. James had something to say about that in his short, direct epistle, at 1:13-14: “No one who is tested should say, ‘God is tempting me!’ This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them.” Turns out, the Koine Greek can be translated more than one way (surprise!), even in the Lord’s Prayer.
The pope invades our comfort zones with a different wording, but the published English felt awkward to me, so I tinkered, and the result is
Please lead us away from temptation, and deliver us from evil. Words in italics aren’t in the traditional prayer. Please is an addition to maintain the same rhythm and number of syllables, but don’t you think it’s about damn time we said please instead of just putting in our order, as at a McDonald’s window?
Anyway, I’m reciting the Lord’s Prayer differently now. I like it. The pope has inspired me. Those Jesuits, you know, always upsetting the comfortable.
A traveler stopped at the gate of a city and said, “I need a place to settle down. What are the people like who live here?”
An old woman of the city asked the traveler in turn, “What were the people like in the city you left?”
“Horrible,” replied the traveler. “They took advantage, lied, stole, and attacked without warning.”
“Then keep going,” said the old woman. “You won’t like the people here any better.”
Another traveler arrived, also asking about those who lived there, and the woman at the gate asked him about the city he had left.
“Oh, they’re wonderful folks, open, honest, and loving. I wanted to learn about the world, and they wished me well and promised to welcome my return, if I ever came back.”
“Come in, traveler. You will love our people, and they will welcome you like old friends.”
This traveler, like the city he had left, is Christian. The city welcoming him is Muslim, and he will indeed feel welcome, because all true religions share the same guiding principle, kindness.
And the woman at the gate answered both travelers perceptively, knowing that you get what you give, and the first traveler’s complaint about the nasty people he had lived with spoke loudly about his own behavior toward others. Everything he had said to condemn his fellow citizens as evil was, of course, self descriptive.
And of course, the second traveler will be happy with the new friends he meets. He’ll treat them as he wants to be treated. Respect earns respect.
And of course again, this little fable, originally Buddhist, might seem more simple than real life, but we can see the truth in it.
Religions go on and on, with history, rituals, celebrations, music, commandments, ceremonies, and rules, but they all come together at the top of the mountain, in the thin air where you have breath for just one word to live by: kindness.