“Deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:13b
Suddenly turning a corner the sight before our eyes is overwhelming. Again and again, driving the Amalfi Coast of Italy, traversing the narrow, winding ribbon of highway that clings precipitously to the cliffs high above the waves, every turn presented a new more amazing vista. One village after another of clay tiled roofs hanging over the edge like steep stair-steps plunging to the sea. What a magnificent place to call home. What a glorious privilege to live here.
In another country, another century, millennia earlier, on a rocky road, familiar from childhood, the walking traveler, turned a corner and there before him was a sight to behold: numerous flat roofed houses, white stucco walls of dwellings packed along the hillside, clustered on top of one another surrounding the walls of a magnificent temple structure, adjacent royal palace, and spacious courtyards. The whole remarkable sight was encased within majestic city walls. Thousands called Jerusalem home. Thousands more crowded her streets, journeying pilgrims gathered for the festival of Passover. The sight did not move the traveler to wonder and amazement, but to tears—-Jesus wept. (Luke 19:41-44)
He wept knowing their destiny. He was well acquainted with the nature of evil and the outcome of those who remain in its ugly grasp. Here was an entire city whose peace was hidden from her eyes. Even her children would be dashed to the ground. And He whose entrance on this day was heralded with shouts of hallelujahs would suffer the ignominious and painful suffering of crucifixion before the week was done.
Many years ago when I was attending a large conference for military chaplains, our speaker in the middle of his talk suddenly paused and asked his audience of over 1500, “How many of you believe when you get to the bottom of it, that at heart most people are good?” The question was not expected and his tone of voice encouraged a unanimous response. Most of the hands in the room shot up. Then he asked in a much different tone, “How many of you believe that at heart most people are evil?” Only a few hands, a very few, joined mine. Perhaps my optimistic instinct was with the first group; my knowledge of the truth was with the latter.
Still when I drove with my wife around the Amalfi Peninsula a few years ago I reveled in the sight and thought little of the inhabitants and their destiny. There is so much to distract us from the sight of evil around us, even more so the evil within. The truth is, evil inundates our world. “Who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun?” asks the author of Ecclesiastes. There is nowhere it is not present and using every tool of deception to produce ruin and death. The news, obviously focused on what sells, screams evil at us every day. We must wonder when and where it will touch our own family; Auburn, University of North Carolina, Virginia Tech?
Still, when we pray as we should moment by moment, it is not just the evil around us from which we pray for deliverance for ourselves and loved ones, it is the evil within our own hearts that needs our attention and this prayer. As we approach once again another Holy Week, consider your own eyes for your world and for your own heart. If you are attentive to the evil within, you will be more moved by the evil around you. You will not rejoice, for example, in the downfall of an arrogant politician, but with tears pray for Eliot Spitzer and his family, for salvation and redemption from sin, made possible in the cross of Christ.
“Heavenly Father, deliver me from the evil in my own heart, and from every attempt of Satan to bring me ruin and shame. Use me, a sinner saved by grace, in the lives of others burdened by the guilt of sin.”
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