“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” ~Matthew 5:37
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had been interpreting the Scriptures’ use of oaths to mean that anything sworn to by the name of God was binding. Promises made by swearing to less sacred things—heaven, earth, Jerusalem—were not as binding. And these loopholes devalued the oath, devalued the word of man.
The existence of oaths is proof that there are lies. Oaths were given to safeguard against lies. But the religious culture of the day was such that oaths were also being used to facilitate lying, to hide dishonesty. It reminds me of the way we acted as kids. We were always able to get out of an “I promise” by confessing that we had our fingers crossed. A one dollar wager on the outcome of a race or a free-throw contest was negated by exclaiming, “We didn’t shake on it!”
Technicalities. Hiding behind our oaths.
By the time Jesus addressed this attitude—these external applications and false practices of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law—in the Sermon on the Mount, some religious groups were already demanding a return to the true intent and spirit of the Law on oaths. Jesus taught that all oaths were wrong. The Essenes were teaching the same thing. Josephus writes this about the Essenes:
“Any word of theirs has more force than an oath; vowing they avoid, regarding it as worse than perjury, for they say that one who is not believed without an appeal to God stands condemned already.” (Antiquities of the Jews, 2:135)
Jesus, and the Essenes, teach that we should be people of such integrity and character and truthfulness of heart that everything we say is absolutely believable and dependable. No doubts. My word should be as trustworthy as a signed contract or notarized legal document. The idea is that every single word we speak is always spoken in the presence of God and so falls under God’s judgment. And since we always speak the truth, there’s no need for an oath. The oath only throws doubt on all our other statements. It’s not necessary. Anything other than a ‘yes’ or a ‘no,’ according to Jesus, comes from the devil. Because anything other than a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ implies that you’re trying to hide something or deceive someone or lie.
Of course, all of God’s Law and all of Jesus’ teachings have to do with relationships—relationships with each other, with our community, and with our God. And these teachings on truth and honesty and dependability all strongly relate to everything else in Scripture. Untruthfulness and dishonesty destroy relationships. They wreck fellowship. But if we’re a people of complete honesty and total truthfulness, we’re all liberated to trust each other freely without any complications or second-guessing or looking over our shoulders or suspicion or speculating about hidden agendas. And that fosters true community. Wholeness. Peace.
There’s a HUGE crane out here this morning, get ready in a couple of hours to set all the 90-foot steel beams on the worship center. Super cool. I’ll post some pictures this afternoon.