Deliverance from Evil and Social Justice
I'm preparing to preach on the final petition of the Lord's Prayer. Yes, I must find a way to connect Palm Sunday with the Lord's Prayer! This petition reads "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." This phrase is loaded with possibilities, some of which I'll try to unpack in the sermon. But as I'm reading in preparation for the sermon from Michael Crosby's The Prayer that Jesus Taught Us, I came across this poignant paragraph that seeks to unpack the word evil.
In light of all the conversations about social justice, the church, health care reform, immigration reform, etc., the question of one's role in the conversation is always present. Crosby has hit on something that I think has merit and is worth pondering.
At the end of the paragraph prior to the one I'm going to quote, Crosby notes that in Matthew's understanding, the evil from which we're asking to be delivered "originates not from the 'devil [who] made me do it' but from that evil that keeps us from doing good (6:22-23).
Germane to our identification of prayer with the effort to do good and be just, when we probe Matthew's meaning of "evil" (poneros), it helps to remember that poneros originally came from penomai, the root word for poverty, the poor, and the needy. Thus, to pray to be "delivered from evil" involves doing good toward those in need. In this sense poneros also involves economic and political iniquaty, not just individual and interpersonal wrongdoing. However, by the time Matthew used poneros, it had come to be identified more with those dynamics that undermine just actions meant to alleviate people's situations of need and poverty. This is expressed in the notion of the contrast between "good" (kalos) fruit and "bad" (poneros) fruit (7:18). [Crosby, p. 165]
Thus, as we pray this prayer, a prayer many of us recite each Sunday, if not more often -- the Didache suggests we pray it daily (3 times) -- are we ready to hear its implications in our lives? And if so, what does it require of us? The answers might be many. Some might say, that it requires us to push the government to enact just laws. Others will say that the government is the problem or part of the problem and that we must work outside those boundaries. Others might say that this isn't an either/or proposition. In light of Crosby's point, the question is -- if we're asking that God deliver us from evil, and if evil is defined as efforts to undermine actions designed to alleviate the poverty and needs of others, then what does this entail?