Friday, June 16, 2017


June 17th, 2017: Matthew 5:33-37.

          The Ten Commandments do not deal directly with oaths and swearing except to say, “you shall not bear false witness,” and “you shall not take the name of the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.” Jesus goes farther in today’s gospel, when he says, still speaking not as an interpreter of God’s law, but as himself the law-giver: “I say to you, do not swear at all.”

He goes on, then, to give examples of what he has just forbidden. Do not swear, he says, by heaven, by the earth, by the holy city Jerusalem, or by your head. The thought behind this list is that all these things are made by God, so swearing by them is really a way of swearing by God without actually pronouncing his name. Such subterfuges are unworthy of those whose lives are centered on God.

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,” Jesus says, “and your ‘No’ mean No.’” The person of integrity has no need to reinforce his Yes or No with an oath. When a man and woman come into God’s house to marry, there are no oaths. The priest or deacon who is presiding at the marriage asks the man simply: “John, do you take this woman to be your wedded wife?” He asks the woman, “Mary do you take this man to be your wedded husband?” Each of them answers, “I do.” With those simple questions and answers, the marriage bond is established. It is mutual consent, given without reservation or compulsion, which makes the marriage.

Similarly with a man being ordained as priest or bishop. Again, there are no oaths. The Church requires only that the candidate answer affirmatively to a number of questions about the duties of the office he is assuming. Once these are given, the prayer for the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the laying on of hands by the ordaining bishop follow.

In a beautiful passage in his second Letter to the Corinthians Paul tells us that Jesus is himself Yes personified. Here’s what Paul writes: “The language in which we address you is not an ambiguous blend of Yes and No. The Son of God, Christ Jesus, proclaimed among you by us ... was never a blend of Yes and No. With him it was, and is, Yes. He is the Yes pronounced upon God’s promises, every one of them.” (2 Cor.1, 18ff: New English Bible) To which we joyfully say: “Thanks be to God!”