Matthew 5:33-37 (NRSV)
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.[a]
Matthew 5:33-37 (The Voice)
33 You know that God expects us to abide by the oaths we swear and the promises we make. 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings. 36 You cannot even say that you swear by your own head, for God has dominion over your hands, your lips, your head. It is He who determines if your hair be straight or curly, white or black; it is He who rules over even this small scrap of creation. 37 You need not swear an oath—any impulse to do so is of evil. Simply let your “yes” be “yes,” and let your “no” be “no.”
Our Scripture passage for today seems to arrive out of the blue. It is about making vows, taking an oath, and being cautioned not to let our response be inappropriate. Just let your yes be yes and your no be no. How shall we look at this ‘out of the blue’ teaching of Jesus during this season of Advent?
Let’s start with the sacredness of life. God’s love has permeated all of creation and we are blessed to be a part of that tender plan. We might also note that we are reading this message on a day that lives painfully in our history as a nation. Shortly before 8:00 AM on December 7, 1941 our nation was forever changed as men and women let their ‘yes be yes’ and their ‘no be no’ as our country went to war.
Jesus is obviously not talking about American history. But he is talking about honesty, commitment, and integrity. In ancient days, oaths were designed to say that some words were more important than others. Even today, and oath means that the words that are about to be spoken are true and the commitment is honest. Jesus is simply saying, let all your words be true and honest. If that is the case, then there is no need for a special oath.
In this season of Advent we are being invited back to the manger. We give thanks for the statements of faith that originally connected our hearts with the pulse of God. But we cannot stay at the manger, we must move beyond. We step forward with a spirit of truth, a commitment to full time integrity, and a reliance on the power of the Spirit in our lives.
As we start a new week together, it is a beautiful day to renew our Yes to the Lord. Let your ‘yes’ be a ‘yes’ that will ring true day after day!