A fourth contrast used by Jesus, comparing the old letter-of-the-law righteousness with the righteousness of the kingdom hearted person living for God. Once again, it can be pretty convicting for us modern day people with just the general practices of how we relate to each other.
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ This of course goes back to the third commandment, “”You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” Exodus 20:7 ESV. First of all, we need to at least try to understand that the Holy, back in the day of Christ, was Holy. Unlike our day, when there is nothing which is considered truly sacred or holy. You might notice that the books of Luke, Mark, and John refer to the “Kingdom of God“, while Matthew refers to the “Kingdom of Heaven“. This is because Matthew us writing his gospel specifically to the Jews of the day, and for them the name “Yahweh”, which we would translate “God”, was simply too Holy to speak out loud, even too Holy for some to even read on paper. Matthew is saying the exact same thing, except he gives the traditional Jewish reverence to the very name of Yahweh and chose to substitute “Kingdom of Heaven” where the other gospels use “Kingdom of God“.
The point is, these people believed in God, and his name was Holy. So while for us, an oath is reduced as a means for the judge to lock you up if you lie about stealing your neighbors bicycle while “under oath”, in this day oaths meant something. If you took an oath before Yahweh, before God, you had better well keep it.
But Jesus continues – But I say to you, Do not take an oath 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 take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” So Jesus takes the old righteousness, making sure you fulfill your oaths before God, and says simply “Don’t make oaths!” He tells us not to swear by God, the earth (it is made by God), Jerusalem (his city), not even by your own head (you were created by God in His own image). The reason being, and this is why I say it is especially convicting for we “modern people” in how we relate to others, is that taking oaths is simply trying to give extra weight to what we are saying and gain acceptance and/or trust where it would not be merited. In other words, it is manipulative. It is using something very impressive and Holy, but irrelevant to the issue being being discussed. It is done to get someone to believe you and let you have your way, a means to get what we want.
We have entire industries based on manipulating people, using sleight of hand, the old “song and dance”, to get them to buy something from us or otherwise give in to our wills. Industries based on using people, getting them to agree to something they otherwise would not agree to do if they were fully informed and allowed to make their decision fully informed and aware of all that is going on.
It seems, to be honest, that our economy is largely based upon this type of manipulation. While we certainly swear to God plenty, that is not (normally) how we go about manipulating people. We manipulate people as a matter of living. We all have something to sell, something we make sure to try to sell in the best possible light. Something that may be advertised incessantly on our ultimate manipulation tool, the screens we use. As always, the great and powerful TV screen. Now, our computer screens, both the desktop models and the computers we carry around in our pockets. We both manipulate and are manipulated in almost every single transaction we make. Many of our purchases come with lots of fine print, our new legal righteousness maintained as simply covering every legal point in the fine print to make sure we can collect our money in a court of law. If the buyer was not aware of every single point in that fine print, too bad for him. Let the buyer beware!!
We manipulate even when we are not selling something. We manipulate people for our will to be done in others’ lives. We manipulate for power. We manipulate at work. We manipulate at home. We manipulate our friends, we manipulate our families.
A far cry from “Let your yes be yes and your no be no!” As Jesus says – Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. People are not disposable. Nor are they there for our use and manipulation. Jesus calls that “evil”.
“”Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath 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 take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
Matthew 5:33-37 ESV