#7. Bloody Oath
Matthew 5: 33-37
‘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.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
Australia is currently fractured by the broken promises or twisted truth of our political system. The inability to trust people at their word undermines the fabric of our society – there is no firm platform beneath our communal feet. This is the sort of situation that Jesus is speaking into. The religious and political system in his time had devised ever-increasingly complex oaths to add gravitas and believability to their words, which continued to strain credibility. Jesus cuts across all the heaping up of words – let your Yes be simply Yes.
Today we are still asked to swear on the Bible in court, or those who are ‘non-religious’ can make an affirmation, instead of an oath. It is assumed that we are not truthful, and have to be made to feel somehow threatened by a sacred object, in order to encourage us to speak the truth. There is a bizarre irony that those who espouse a faith are given the option to swear by almighty God, when it appears that Christians have been told by Jesus not to do so!
Our Anabaptist forbears took these words literally and refused to take any oaths. This rendered them very unpopular during the American Revolutionary wars. Amish, Mennonites and Quakers all refused to take the Oaths of Renunciation and Allegiance. Their refusal to take these oaths on religious grounds, and also to swear allegiance to the Crown, meant that they became ineligible for jury service, for public office and unable to buy and sell land. Their desire for simplicity and integrity effectively rendered them lesser citizens.
Today we no longer expect our politicians to tell the whole truth. Promises can be broken because they were not “core promises”. “White lies” are the acceptable lubrication of social discourse and the ground beneath us becomes ever more unstable.
It is costly to let your Yes be Yes. Your believability rests simply on the evidence of your life. Am I a trustworthy person? Do people trust my word because my life has integrity, or do I need to convince them with added extras? Jesus is challenging us not to justify ourselves by any other means.
Just watch today how many times you seek to add a justification to your actions or words. “Can you come to the meeting tonight?” “No…..I promised my mother I’d drop in”. We need to add the extra explanation: “Have you finished that piece of work?” “No…..I was sick over the weekend, and our internet went down”.
As a “Practice“ today, try to simply let your Yes be Yes and your No a No. Resist the embellishments of oaths or justifications. Note how you feel when you leave people with mono-syllabic responses, and watch their reactions. What might God be saying in this? What are you learning?
– Anne Wilkinson Hayes