33 “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.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37 (ESV)
“But I say to you.” Jesus peppers this portion of the Sermon on the Mount with this seemingly innocuous phrase, “But I say to you.” It’s not as innocent as it seems. Jesus is making a claim here. He’s commenting on the Law of Moses given by God himself. Only one greater than Moses, that is, only God himself has the right to take the Law of Moses and make it more intense. His listeners would have understood this if we don’t. God’s law, we aren’t to add or subtract. It’s his law, it is perfect. Don’t touch it, it will kill you if you do. But touch it? That’s what we do. We take complete liberty with it in our efforts to come out smelling like roses. Only God has the right to do with his law what we do, and here he comes not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.
“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.”
How often do we do that? I swear to Jerusalem! Ok, that isn’t one of the oaths a person hears all that often. We are more likely to say “I swear to God,” or perhaps, “I swear on my mother’s grave.” And we don’t really think much of it. Perhaps we make a pinky promise. Jews would never swear to God. And if they did they wouldn’t take it near as lightly as people do today. We ascribe more weight to the bodily functions of the bed and bathroom than we do to the name of the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. It’s a societal neurosis that we consider those things to be more sacred, so sacred that their true Saxon names can’t be used in company of the polite.
The Jews of Jesus’ day used the word Lord in the place of the name of God given to Moses through the burning bush. That ground was sacred, holy ground, Moses had to remove his sandals before he approached. It was sacred because God was there, and he was in the presence of God. That which God touches is made sacred by his touch, and cleansed by his fire.
But now Jesus seems to go even further than the Law of Moses. Don’t swear by anything that is sacred, not even your own head for it too is sacred and you have no control over it.
Jesus seems to go even further, but what he really does is point up the problem for us. Here the laws upon which Jesus works are the civil codes of Israel. These laws were about limiting and controlling evil within society. Jesus isn’t recommending laws for society. But he is showing us that knowing right from wrong isn’t enough. He is showing that following the law as it is prescribed for society is all well and good if you want to stay out of jail, but really what is wrong with your heart that the law needs to be there in the first place?
I’m often told that we are born with love, but we have to learn to hate. It is said in different ways by this world that has a vastly different view of our hearts than that of Jesus who believes all forms of evil come out of the heart. That the evil is naturally there, and at its root is selfishness. I don’t know my experience has been one completely different. It’s not an easy thing to admit. But when I compare my life to the life of love that Christ lived I see a fundamental difference between the love with which he died on the cross for the sins of the world, and sacrificed his life even for those who hated and hate him, and the love for which I might buy roses for Laura on Valentine’s Day, or even the love with which I try to improve the lot of people in my community. Not that there is anything wrong with those sorts of things. But I often find that whatever love I may have for my fellow man it is often rather deficient when it comes to practice. I know I shouldn’t be angry, but I find myself quashing anger in my heart and working overtime to do so when things aren’t going my way. Sound familiar? I find myself thinking if not calling people outright things much worse than fool, it would have been raka in the Aramaic and meant Godless, because only the fool says in his hear there is no God.
And yet not even the atheist is godless. Oh they may not care to recognize God, but they have a God. Their God is your God. Their God is the God who says do not swear by anything sacred whether Jerusalem or your head. Yes, that’s right, your head is sacred, your head is holy, So God considers it and so it is. It is sacred because when you, like the atheist were still enemies of God, still loveless, still selfish and only loving where your own best was concerned, well then this God showed selfless love and died for you, and died for the whole world that no one would be raka, no one a fool but that all would be sanctified by his blood, and no one godless. And in that God let his yes be yes and his no be no, and the oath he swore to Abraham was fulfilled entirely.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.