‘Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not break your oath, but fulfil to the Lord the oaths you have made.” 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 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 swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply “Yes,” or “No”; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
We have all at one time or another made the mistake of making rash promises, either to a pestering child to get a minute’s peace, or to gain something we want only to find out later that we have no power to keep the promise or deliver what we said we would. It’s bad enough doing that carelessly but when we make a promise with absolutely no intention of keeping it, just call it what it is... a lie. The Pharisees were adept at finding escape routes from the obligation of a promise by carefully wording a vow so that, in their view, it didn’t implicate God and therefore become binding. That’s really the issue here. It’s using a form of words that later allows an individual to wriggle out of the obligation. Perhaps for the same reason so many treaties in history have been so ambiguous in their language that later, when it was convenient, any or all of the parties could abandon their costly commitments with some pretence of justification. Jesus point is simple, all promises are binding and the formula of words is not the issue. After all, the earth in its entirety belongs to God. So, what’s wrong with simply answering yes or no and then being that rare entity, a person or people of our word?
A prayer - Our Father in heaven, Jesus reminded us that your word is truth, and yet even as your people we are so often untruthful. Forgive us that we make promises carelessly, and later find convenient ways of escaping our obligations. Help us rather to promote truth, to be trustworthy people and help us by your Holy Spirit to strive always to keep and act upon the promises we have made to you or to others. Enable us always to be people of our word. In Jesus name AMEN