Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no. These seem like simple words from Jesus. As his disciples, as it is for all women and men, our word should be sufficient. I can think of only only two reasons why the swearing of an oath would be necessary. The first is because the stakes are too high. Think about it, in a court of law, a witness is asked to swear to tell the truth, under penalty of law, because the ramifications of lying are so very powerful. Or, when an elected official takes their oath of office, they make solemn vows because the ultimate threat of treasonous activity is the end of the the Republic. I’ve done a lot of this kind of promising of late. Whether it was my signature on a Letter of Agreement here at Christ Church or the joint signatures of my wife and I on the 30 year note for our house: the need to be absolutely sure we mean what we say is strong.
The other need for an oath comes when the person can no longer be taken at their word. This is the more insidious reason, and the one I’m sure Jesus was addressing in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount. If one cannot be trusted to keep one’s word on small things, the whole of their character is called into question. So, then, if I have promised to love my neighbor, and am seen treating her with disrespect, how then can I again be trusted? Worse yet, how is my witness of the Lord Jesus Christ negatively impacted. Indeed, how is the whole Gospel tarnished when one disciple fails to live up the standard of yes means yes and no means no.
We live in times that are full of untruths and half-truths. Our news sources are more and more reliant on “inside sources” and in a culture where sales and clicks drive everything we do, stories are often brought to press that might not be fully vetted at the time. Worse yet, according to the Pew Research Center nearly 20% of Americans use Social Media as their primary news source. Anyone who has spent any time on Social Media can tell you that Facebook is probably the worst possible way to get accurate information. The changing world is creating millions of people who think they are well informed, but are filled with half-truths or worse. In this climate, yes meaning yes and no meaning no becomes harder and harder to live up to.
So, what do we do as followers of Jesus? We do our homework. We engage those with whom we disagree. And above all, when we aren’t sure our yes really means yes or our no really means no, we have to get comfortable living in ambiguity. “I don’t know,” must be an acceptable answer. For, unless we are avoiding an issue about which we actually do know something, often times “I don’t know” is the most truthful things we can say about something. As an added bonus, saying “I don’t know” is an exercise in humility, a topic about which Jesus will have plenty to say later in this sermon.
In a day and age when truth is relative and lies seem the norm, there is great power in the keeping of one’s word.