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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 5:33–37

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (NRSV)

Reflection
In Hamlet, Hamlet hires players to recreate the circumstances of his father’s death. In this play, the Player Queen swears that if her husband dies she will never remarry. “Nor earth to give me food, nor heaven light,” that sort of thing, “if, once a widow, ever I be wife.” Hamlet turns to his mother and asks her what she thinks of the play, and Gertrude replies drily, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Gertrude deftly points out that it’s one thing to swear you’ll do something, yet another to actually carry out a promise. And, in fact, we find this oversworn queen abandoning her vows very quickly. The more effusive the oath, the less believable it becomes.

Juliet tells Romeo as much, when she says:

“O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
that monthly changes in her circled orb,
lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

The thing about swearing is it means that you are aware that your word is insufficient. “As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again” simply means “I’ve been frivolous before, but I want you to know I’m serious now.” “It’s true, I swear to God” just means “We both know I could be lying, so I’ll bring in God as a backup.” Swearing is talk. Action is proof. Your actions are what validate your words. More words don’t do anything.

So, when we profess to be Christians, the validation of that profession of faith is not found in the words we speak, no matter how holy and inspired they may seem. No matter how theologically and doctrinally sound our statements of belief may be, the truth is found in our practice; it is found in the visible, tangible way we follow the actions of Christ. Let your yes be yes. Don’t just say it; do it.

Anything else is simply protesting too much, methinks.

Prayer
Lord, point us toward your actions as guide to how we should live in the world. Remind us that our faith is seen in what we do, not in what we say. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts


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