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.” Matthew 5:33-37

Sometimes (often) we will come across Bible passages like this one and immediately we realize that there is information out there somewhere we need that we don’t have. In this case I have a sense that I don’t know nearly enough about the importance of “vow making” in Jesus’ culture.

Perhaps we remember the faithfulness of Hannah who pledged that, should God grant her the birth of a child, to dedicate the child to God’s service. Or the seriousness of the Nazirite vow that is mentioned in Acts 21 (shaving your head, purification rites.) Or maybe the foolishness of the vow that Jephthah makes in Judges 11 (a promise to offer as a burnt offering whatever greets him as he returns from a successful fight, which turned out to be his young daughter.) Yet aren’t these all exceptional cases? Is Jesus reaching back to stories like this?

Or is Jesus’ attention directed closer to home? To the reality that promise making and promise keeping are essential to getting along with others and that promise breaking is deadly to human community?

When we were children we learned that if we would embellish our promises with sincerity, thereby proving that we really really really meant it – “Cross my heart and hope to die, poke a needle in my eye…” or “I pinkie promise…” or the infamous “I swear on a stack of Bibles” – then we were far more likely to get what we wanted. I’m thinking this morning that this is really what Jesus is going after. Vow making as a way of manipulating God or others into doing what we what.

Jesus says we should keep things simple. Yes or no. And then follow through. Tell the truth. Keep our promises. Do what we say we are going to do. Don’t use our promises to manipulate others. Live with integrity. Integrity makes us trustworthy and trust is the glue that binds us together.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, words matter. Promises matter. Integrity matters. Guide us in our dealings with others today that we might prove to be trustworthy people. Protect us from those who would manipulate us by promising what they cannot deliver or by appealing to our basest instincts and desires. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 5:33-37”

  1. David Armstrong Says:

    You hit the nail squarely on the head!

  2. Carolee Groux Says:

    Proverbs 3:5-7

    “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

    Trust in the Lord is the glue that binds us together in love.

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