Advent 16-50: Oaths

Advent Day 16 of 50: Oaths

By this time, still in the early part of the Sermon on the Mount, we are understanding that what we are hearing, is uniquely Jesus Christ. “Those of old” have heard one thing, but today, we are hearing, “But I say to you.” And thus far, the message plain and simple, is about the sincerity of our expressions.

Jesus was reacting to the times. Religion had become mechanical, non-relevant and therefore meaningless. Matthew records that the religious elite, the Pharisees, were criticizing Jesus on multiple fronts. On one occasion (chapter 15), Jesus’ disciples were eating in a manner not prescribed by the Law of the Jews. Jesus taught that it was not, “what goes into the mouth [that] defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”

The words we speak reflect the purity of our heart. And so, the next teaching we encounter in the Sermon on the Mount is about oaths, the words that come from our mouth, and thus proceed from our heart.

Jesus says, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

An oath is the ultimate statement of one’s sincerity. To this day, oaths are taken to mean a person’s complete commitment to his or her promise. It is a vow solidified by some higher power. For this reason, often public oaths are taken on the holy scriptures, in sanctified spaces, or in the presence of a representative of ruling authority.

Jesus’ commandment is that we refrain from oaths that we cannot keep. Thus far, he has given a higher standard of living than what the religious community was handing out. Remember, murder is not only killing, but it is defined by anger. Likewise, adultery is the lustful conditions leading to the act. Jesus’ standard is a higher standard, and he cautions that we be honest and say nothing more than yes or no.

Let us pray, from the 17th hour of St. Nersess Shnorhali’s prayer, You who bring back the wanderers, turn me from my evil ways to good ones and imprint upon my soul the recollection of the dreadful day of death, the fear of hell and the love of Your Kingdom that I may repent from my sins and do righteousness. Have mercy on me. Amen.

Cover: Luna & Gregory Beylerian, 2023

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