Jesus' ethic of promises kept

Posted Jul 2, 2020

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Daily Scripture

Matthew 5:33-37

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord [Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21]. 34 But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. 35 You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. 36 And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Reflection Questions

Jesus took truth-telling very seriously. When he said “pledging,” he didn’t mean filling out a church budget pledge card (unless you don’t mean what you put on the card). “Other Jewish people sometimes tried to evade the curse incurred in broken oaths by swearing by something less than God.”* Our integrity shouldn’t come and go, depending on how we anchor it to some vow (“I swear I mean it this time”). Those who know us should always be able to depend on our inner honesty.

  • Psychologists and linguists note that sometimes it’s hard to make our statements or our questions direct (e.g. at times “Do you like this outfit?” may hide the real question: “Do you still love me?”). How can you, in both questions and answers, grow in your ability to let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no? What fears make it hardest for you to speak plainly, avoiding evasive or slippery words?
  • Jesus taught about solemn pledges after talking about divorce. (Other texts about divorce—Matthew 19:3–9, Mark 10:2–12, Luke 16:18, and 1 Corinthians 7:10–16—show a fuller, more nuanced picture.) N. T. Wright called us back to Jesus’ main theme: “Jesus certainly didn’t want his hearers, or the later church, to get embroiled in endless debates about just what was allowed….Jesus is not just giving moral commands. He is unveiling a whole new way of being human.”** How would resolute inner honesty lead you toward that whole new way of being human?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, sadly we’ve sometimes used your words to condemn others, not to challenge ourselves. Keep me focused on learning how to always let my yes mean yes and my no mean no. Amen.


* NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook (Kindle Locations 219217-219218). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

** Wright, N.T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (The New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 48-49). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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Lindsey Arnold Seevers

Lindsey Arnold Seevers

Lindsey is part of the Missions team at Church of the Resurrection. She is working on her M.Div. at Claremont School of Theology. Her favorite Bible story comes from John 21, because she will never turn down a brunch invite… especially not from Jesus.

I am a liar.

If you asked me which Biblical character I relate to the most, I would most likely give you a facetious answer about Peter—redeemed during brunch with Jesus in the Gospel of John. I might tell you I’m a recovering Martha—worried more about proper preparations than sitting and listening. Or if I was feeling particularly cheeky, I might tell you I relate most to Deborah—singing songs about strong women and the folly of pride. But, as I told you before, I am a liar.

The Biblical character I relate to the most is Jonah.

I have been running from the Divine for the better part of seventeen years. I tried to placate the call with a M.A. in Religious Studies, an endeavor that allowed me all the joy of studying people and their beliefs without the messiness of being involved in their lives. I jumped into the boat of non-profit and community engagement work in Springfield, MO after grad school, seeking to empower others and create fun experiences for college students and donors. I bought into the image of who I thought other people wanted me to be.

But when my husband took a job in Kansas City, I found myself in the midst of a storm—wrestling with the fact that after a few months of unemployment my only viable job offer was working at a large church. In a dramatic night that makes Ted Neely’s version of “Gethsemane” look like Rodgers and Hammerstein, I decided to accept the job.

Having worked at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection for over three years now, I recognize that this was where I needed to be all along. That hard-won inner honesty has given me a renewed sense of purpose. Working in the Mission Ministries department has shown me the value and potential the mainline church still has, and how now more than ever the church can work to equip its people for not only acts of mercy but for systemic justice work. I once again hear the call from God. It turns out my belly of the great fish was a beautiful sanctuary.

I believe the current pandemic and calls for racial justice will lead to lasting reformation within the Church. We are being called to repentance and re-envisioning. But none of that will stick without honesty—within ourselves and our community.

If we are honest with ourselves, maybe, just maybe we realize we’ve gotten a little too comfortable with the less-than-equitable status quo.

If we are honest with ourselves, maybe we realize we weren't listening when Jesus’ answered our question—“Who is my neighbor…really?”

If we are honest with ourselves, maybe we realize it’s time we stop doubting the call and actually do something.

Nineveh, here I come.

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