I (Don’t ) Swear! - A Reflection on Matthew 5:33-37
Here is a verse that is often misunderstood because we take it literally. When Jesus
says, “Do not swear at all,” we take it to mean we shouldn’t take any oaths. We
shouldn’t, and the reasoning for this is explained in the context of this passage “You
cannot make one hair white or black”, he says. We don’t have control over anything,
and any power we believe we might have over life, or life’s situations, is illusory.
At another time, Jesus asks, “Can you add an hour to your life?” (See Luke 12:25).
Forget an hour; we cannot add a minute to our life? So, how then can we make
oaths, or swear promises? We don’t have a right to promise anything because we
don’t have the power to fulfill any promises that we make. Do you see? That’s why
Jesus is telling us not to make any promises.
James, who has written some of the wisest things in the Bible says, and I
paraphrase, “Ok, you guys say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such
place and do such and such thing.” But you don’t even know what tomorrow will
bring. Do you? So, say instead: “If the Lord wishes, we will go here or there, and do
this or that.” Anything else you say is boasting, and all such boasting is evil because
it implies you are in control” (see James 4:13-16).
But let us note that James is not saying we shouldn’t make any promises at all. He is
saying that as long as we understand that God is the ultimate decider, the one in
control, we can! We find many people in the Bible swearing, including Paul, who
said: “But I call on God as witness against me: it was to spare you that I did not
come again to Corinth” (2 Corinthians 1:23). That is taking an oath! God himself
swore. Hebrews 6:13 says: When God made a promise to Abraham, because he
had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself.
So, what’s the conclusion? As ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), and heirs
of God (Romans 8:17), we have the right to invoke the name of Christ (John 14:14),
as long as we keep what we just spoke about in mind: that we don’t have power or
control over anything in our lives, it is only God who does. To be on the really safe
side, let us do what Jesus suggested: let our yes be yes, and our no be no.