33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
A super-short quote and a short-ish blog post for you this Friday. At the time of this writing, I think I have strep – mothering little kids is not for the weak! Hopefully by the time this goes live I’ll be on antibiotics and feeling better already. But I digress.
I love passages like this because the longer you sit with them, the more they unfold, like a rose blooming. I’ve found four key points in this passage. I’d love to hear if you got anything else out of it, too. My four takeaways are:
- The sacredness of everything. Heaven is God’s throne, Earth God’s footstool, Jerusalem God’s city. Xe created everything, and therefore everything is sacred: every cloud, tree, stone, street, and person. It’s beautiful and overwhelming to think about. Here, Jesus talks about not using anything to swear an oath, but beyond that, we should not defile God’s beautiful creation in any way, but view it with awe and appreciation.
- Our lack of power. I believe we have free will, but that doesn’t mean that we have absolute power, even over our most personal selves – our own bodies, as Jesus so eloquently points out. We may make decisions, we may swear promises, but in reality, if God has a different plan for us, those decisions and promises may be out of our control to fulfill.
- Even if we shouldn’t swear oaths, our word should be our bond. In other words, say what you mean and mean what you say. Again, things may be out of our control. For example, you promise to help with the school field day but then come down with a stomach bug day-of. (Can you tell my latest kids and health obsession from that example?) But do your best. Say “yes” if you can do something, and “no” if you can’t. It sounds easy, but it means knowing yourself, and sometimes turning down things you really want to do. I’ve read countless Cosmo/Oprah/Woman’s Day type articles that talk about the power and importance of saying no, and how women tend to say yes too quickly and overwhelm themselves. Having kids forces me on a daily basis to re-learn the saying “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” Know your limits, and promise within them. A quick sub-point: respect other people’s limits and do not ask too much of them.
- Strong oaths are an invitation to self examination. The passage ends with “anything else comes from the evil one.” The “evil one” is Satan, and as I’ve discussed before, I’ve come to see Satan as a kind of undercover cop/moral auditor. So, when we use the exact language Jesus is warning about here (or someone uses it to us), we (or they) are revealing something about ourselves. The question is what are we revealing? If someone is in a rage and says “I swear I’ll beat his head in,” (I know, extreme, but I’m having trouble being creative today and it gets the point across) we know that they are angry. But we learn more about what triggers them so strongly, can later discuss whether it’s rational or not, and what a better solution might be. All this is assuming it’s just letting off steam, if someone is actually about to beat someone else’s head in, you should probably call the cops. In a few posts I’ll talk about how Jesus tells us to guard our secret hearts, and I think this passage alludes to that, too. Swearing so strongly leaves our emotions, desires, and ambitions out there for unscrupulous people to prey upon, and leaves us susceptible to their manipulations.
May you have a wonderful and healthy weekend everyone! I’ll finish Matthew Chapter 5 next week, God willing and health permitting.