Scripture: Matthew 5: 33-37
Focus: Do not swear
Reflection: It’s pretty simple. Be honest. Everyone knows this rule. It is a rule of fairness and justice. It may be one of the most instinctive moral rules between people. Even from a very young age, children know that it hurts when they learn someone was dishonest with them. Upon experiencing dishonesty, a child is hurt, confused, and is trying to figure out what it means that there is a “what I say” world and there is a “what I do” world and that these worlds do not always match up. These lesson plans of dishonesty, sadly, are learned early and reproduced early.
If dishonesty were left to children being dishonest with each other and when they grow up they learn to become honest, then I think Jesus doesn’t mention it. However, rather than become more honest, people become more clever and sophisticated with the ways in which they are dishonest. The goal, it would seem, is to get all of the benefits and credit for honesty without actually having to come through on promises, contracts, and deals.
So, in order to appear good and honest and true without actually having to be that way, rules are set up. Rules that some people know and others do not. Rules where I can say one thing and mean another, but you do not know the rules so when I say something, you think I actually mean it because you are not aware of the rules.
This happens all the time. It happens on the playground. It happens in the boardroom. It happens in the university hallways. It happens in governments. It happens in the church. “All men are created equal” didn’t actually include everyone. All white men with cash or status were created equal and the rest were there to perpetuate that bias. People with power make rules and don’t let anyone else in on them. Although we’re all using the same words, some people are in on the secret of the double meanings while others are not.
It is system set up in which the people who are actually honest end up looking stupid. They are stupid because they didn’t know the rules that no one ever told them. It is the old playground rule of crossing your fingers behind your back. One person tells another person something and the other person believes it and wonders why some of the other kids are trying to hold back their giggles. They are in on something, but what? Only later is the honest person revealed as the fool.
Jesus cuts through all this mess and says yes means yes and no means no. There is no more hierarchy here. Everyone plays by the same rules. And that means everyone, even the super religious people who know all the rules made up about swearing by heaven and earth. “Don’t drag God into your deceptions,” Jesus says. “Doing that is of the Devil.”