Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Oaths and Adultery

"‘Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one (Matthew 5: 33-37).
As the wealthy oil tycoon lay on his deathbed, his pastor talked of God’s healing power. "Pastor," he gasped, "if God heals me, I’ll give the church a million dollars." Miraculously, the man revived and within a few short weeks was out of the hospital. One day, several months later, he and the pastor chatted on the sidewalk in front of a hardware store. "You know," said the pastor, "When you were in the hospital dying, you promised to give the church a million dollars if you got well. We haven’t gotten it yet." "Did I say that?" the wealthy man asked. "I guess it just goes to show you how sick I really was."
There are many variations on this theme. Maybe the most commonly know one is the "hangover mantra" chanted into toilet bowls all across this country in the wee hours of the morning by moaning party goers who have had too much to drink. After a night of binge drinking, the nauseated person swears an oath to God, that if He just lets them feel better, they’ll "never have another drink again." People may chuckle to think of such a scene - possibly because it was all-to-often their experience - but God, most assuredly does not. God tells us:
Do not swear falsely by My name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:12).
In the 5th Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus affirms God’s command:
"But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne, or by the earth for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King...Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one (Matthew 5: 34-35, 37).
God takes His Word very seriously. It was by His Word that He created the world. It was through the Word in human flesh - Jesus Christ - that God saved mankind from sin, death and the devil. While there are acceptable ways to call on God to witness the truth of our words, swearing is forbidden when it is done falsely, thoughtlessly, or in sinful, uncertain or unimportant matters. St. Peter swore falsely, and thus committed perjury:
The he [Peter] went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth." He denied it again, with an oath: "I don’t know the man!" (Matthew 26: 71-72).
God calls us to keep our word. If we do, we don’t need to "swear" and call God to be our witness. If we keep our word, people will know that our ‘Yes’ means ‘Yes’ and our ‘No’ means ‘No.’
It is also no coincidence that Jesus discusses the concept of keeping one’s word in the same discussion as adultery and divorce. Jesus tells us about adultery:
"You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell" (Matthew 5: 27-29).
Jesus is serious when he tells us to gouge out our eye if it causes us to sin. If we had a cancerous tumor or a diseased organ that was slowly killing us, the surgeon would remove it so that we could be healthy (if it were possible to do). However, by making this shocking statement, Jesus reminds us that it is not our eye that causes us to look lustfully at the opposite sex. On the contrary, it is our sinful heart that causes us to sin.
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’ (Mark 7: 14-16).
Just as Jesus tells us we must gouge out our eye if it is the cause of our sin, so must we remove the real cause of our sinfulness if we are to be righteous and live. We must remove and cast away our heart - our sinful human nature. The problem is, we, as humans, are powerless to rid ourselves of our sinfulness. It is for this reason that Christ came into the world.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly...But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5: 6,8).
Christ died for all our sins - including our lust and our lies. Those who believe in Him can take comfort in the fact that they are fully and freely forgiven. Through our Baptism, God "removes" our sinful heart, casts it away, and makes us into a new creation. Glory, praise and thanks be to God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.