Swearing

Matthew 23: 13-22
1Thes 1:1-5,8b-10 / Ps 149

And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the One Who sits on it.”
(Matthew 23:22)

God did not give us tongues to swear,
Or pledge an oath to hide our guile;
He gave us mouths to use in prayer
And lips to show love with a smile.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.” (Matthew 23:13-22)

Reflection

In our first reading today we read how St. Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians praised them for their steadfast faith even as they were constantly being persecuted by the Romans and Jews alike. He wrote: “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Thess 1:2-3). These people were mostly Greeks, new converts to the faith, and the Holy Spirit’s power was clearly at work in this former Gentile community. This was sadly not the case in Jerusalem, where the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were “shutting the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” in spite of the miracles the Lord Jesus was performing in their midst, and the message of salvation He was preaching to them. These Jewish leaders were the exact opposite of St. Paul, who travelled over land and sea to convert thousands to Christ, while they could not even win a single convert, who would end up “twice as much a child of hell” as they were. Woe to them indeed.

Why was this the lot of the Pharisees and scribes of the law? According to our Lord, it was because they put their faith in the gold and gifts offered in the temple, rather than in the temple itself. Jesus also repudiated them for their propensity to take oaths or swear by the altar or the temple to affirm the truth of their words, even as our Lord had earlier warned them, “I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne, nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; not by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King… Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’. Anything more is from the evil one” (Mt.5:34-37). How easily they violated the third commandment which said, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain.”

Scripture tells us that people who are fond of taking oaths are just as easily prone to swearing. “Their mouths are full of cursing, fraud and deceit; under their tongues are mischief and vanity” (Psa 10:7). It would do us well to avoid their company. Instead, let us join ranks with brothers and sisters in the faith, who are led by the Spirit, and who have put their hope in the Lord Jesus’s promise of everlasting life. Let only the praise of God be in our mouths forever (Psa 149:6).

Lord God, grant that only praise and words of worship issue from our lips, as well as love and good intentions from our hearts and minds. May our lives serve to bring others to You, Lord, by the Gospel of Jesus that we proclaim and try to live by. Amen.

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