March 22, 2012: The Twenty-Sixth Day of Lent
March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make on hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; and anything beyond these is of evil.”
~ Matthew 5.33-37 ~
Christ moves on from matters of relationship in marriage to the subject of oaths. As previously, some investigation into the historical time of Christ will help us immensely. In the time of Christ, the issue of oaths and the surrounding legal matters occupied a critical role in Jewish culture. The Mishnah, a written redaction of Pharisaic teachings from around the time of Christ and earlier, dedicates a section to the matter of oaths (Fourth Division, shevu’ot). This portion of Jewish teaching discussed the various kinds of oaths and how to determine if an oath was broken or kept.
In Matthew 23, during Christ’s harsh invective regarding empty Pharisaism, we can read a section in which Christ demonstrates the absurd level to which oath-taking has come: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold?” Verses 16-22 deal with many examples of this kind of thinking.
The ancient Law meant to ensure that people kept their word; unfortunately, by the time of Christ, the whole topic had become swamped with technicalities and frivolities. Christ brings his audience back to the root matter. Oaths should not be needed to enforce proper behavior. Rather, out of proper respect for others, one should follow through on what is promised. This demonstrates, again, a proper relationship with God and with others.
We don’t have much to do with oaths in our time. We do have some exposure to them in a legal setting, but they do not have a large role in our day-to-day lives. However, Christ’s message challenges us for our time as well: Mean what you say. Tell the truth. Follow through with your commitments. Now, just as much as then, honesty and integrity matter.
Lord Christ, I confess that I am often unreliable to my friends and family. I hear your voice calling me to a higher standard; please birth in me a renewed commitment to keeping my word and following through. Amen.