Good morning, happy Saturday, and many blessings
In today’s Gospel, Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus is not creating greater laws, he is creating greater character. The Jews were great ones for giving the impression that they were very religious people, but many of them merely went through the motions. For his followers, Jesus wanted more. He wanted kindness. He wanted honesty. Jesus wanted compassion and justice and pure motives. So, when we get to this gospel lesson, we find Jesus abolishing a practice that the Jews had employed for generations: You have heard it said “You shall not swear falsely” but I say to you, do not swear at all.
Have you ever wondered how this idea of swearing, and taking oaths, and placing one’s hand on the bible came to be? It came from the assumption that people lie – we frequently lie – and that we will not tell the truth unless we are compelled to do so. So, when someone thinks we may be lying, they say “Do you swear to God?” “Do you swear on your mother’s grave?” “Do you…Cross your heart and hope to die if you should ever tell a lie?” Somehow, we figure that if someone is invoking their mother’s grave, or bargaining with their own life, they will certainly tell the truth.
So, what is Jesus’ antidote for swearing on his name, or swearing on anyone else’s name? Just don’t do it. When you are asked for your answer, you simply say “yes” or “no.” And you tell the truth. Followers of the Savior do not need extra encouragement or more reasons to tell the truth. We don’t need legalistic rules, or the threat of perjury, or the weight of our mother’s graves to compel us to speak the truth. We only need to be reminded that it is our duty as followers of Jesus to be honest. Always honest.
Definitively, Jesus is creating in us a greater character by leading us to a radical discipleship, which must be demonstrated through our spiritual maturity and this in turn God’s standard of integrity and righteousness.
It’s easy to beat up on the Pharisees, but I’ve been a Pharisee on numerous occasions. I’ve allowed myself to surrender my authenticity to impress people. Jesus says let "yes" be yes and "no" be no. Righteousness must exceed the Pharisees. They surrendered their authenticity to appear more religious. This reflection is an encouragement to live in the opposite manner.
I don’t think that Jesus’ intention is to weigh us down or condemn us. He is giving us good news about the nature of righteousness. How wonderful to know that God’s intention for us is that we become righteous people, not just those that do righteous things sometimes. We are to reflect His very nature and character, to be made new all the way down to the deepest parts of our being! Welcome to the praxis of radical discipleship.