Do not swear

Anthony Zimmerman
Reproduced with Permission

"Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' 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 what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil." (Matt 5:33-37).

Christ, Son of God, makes it known here that He is not pleased when people use His sacred name, to testify either to a falsehood or frivolously to an ordinary truth. Oath taking had become commonplace, and rabbi's spent much time discussing what forms were valid or invalid. To avoid using the name of God directly it became customary to use various circumlocutions instead. Jesus said it is all the same no matter what they swear by because in the end it is God whom they call to witness. Christians should be sincere and truthful without invoking the divine Name lightly.

Thanks be to God, my father gave us a good example by never using the name of God in anger or frivolously. Instead of that he invented colorful and meaningless thunder words to vent frustration. And come to think of it, I do not remember hearing any of us ten children using God's sacred name disrespectfully.

But what should one do who has the bad habit of swearing and finds it hard to stop? Resolve to stop it, said Saint John Chrysostom to his people at Antioch, and keep resolving so until you succeed. And if that still does not work, ask others to help until you free yourself of the habit:

Set very many to watch over you, and call you to account, and so free yourselves from the habit of oaths; that going on orderly from thence, ye may both with all facility succeed in attaining unto all other virtue, and may enjoy the good things to come; which God grant that we may all win, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might now and always, even for ever and ever. Amen. (End of Sermon 17, translated by Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series: Volume X, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997.

5 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you." (Matt 5:38-42).

Jesus is not making an invitation to commit suicide here, or to allow evil to go unchecked. Note that Jesus does not oppose coming to the rescue of a neighbor who suffers violence. But He teaches emphatically that we must endure some evils patiently and not pay back in kind. The law of retaliation should give way to the law of love in the new kingdom. A response of acceptance and even of love to a neighbor's injustice can break open the trap of re-current violence, and bring love to prevail instead.

God had also approved the law of retaliation in its proper time and place, for it was devised to dissuade crime, and to curb excessive revenge. Jesus now expected more. His people must be more ready to forgive then to take vengeance, must love even when there is no return. Jesus will cap the message with the words: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." As Chrysostom urged his people make use of the given opportunities to grow in Christian virtue:

See how He hath set the highest pinnacle on our good deeds. For this is why He teaches not only to endure a blow, but to offer the right cheek also; not only to add the cloak to the coat, but to travel also two miles with him who compels thee to go one;... Not even to count as an enemy him who is doing these things: ... For He said not, "do not hate," but "love;" He said not, "do not injure," but "do good."

The message of Jesus here is not the same as modern political movements of pacifism and non-violence, which are not necessarily acts of love toward others. These are often times political movements rather than personal endeavors at self-perfection, Acts of defense against violence toward self or a neighbor have their proper place in Christian life. Punishment for crime is a necessary part of keeping the peace and of teaching what is right and what is wrong.

Going two miles with one who forces you to go one mile refers to the Roman practice of angereia (IBC 1276). That was the rule by which Simon of Sirene was pressed to carry the cross after Jesus. Roman soldiers were permitted to force passers-by to carry their gear, a cause of much tension and hostility. To ease the burden the law was made that the soldiers could not make civilians carry their equipment for more than a mile. By voluntarily carrying it two miles instead would certainly tend to relieve the tensions and hostility and create a friendly atmosphere instead.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:43-48).

We picture Jesus, Son of God, gazing benignly with the Father and the Spirit upon the factious people on the mountain side whom Jesus was now addressing in His guise as Son of Man. Can Jews love the Roman occupiers? Even pray for them? Can fellow Jews love tax collectors who bought their rights from the Romans? The rabbi's numbered tax collectors with robbers and murderers. Should one love when there is no prospect of being loved in turn? Impossible, surely. Yet Jesus calls for no less. This is the civilization of love that He now expects the people of His kingdom to build.

The reason why bishops and pastors must provide the full message of Christ, most model His pattern of human behavior

Jesus addressed the disciples and the audience of the Sermon on the Mount as the people of His own kingdom of heaven. They are thenceforth, down through the coming ages, until the end of time, appointed as the "people covenant, a light to the nations." ... It is this people who have the teaching of God in their hearts, "who through demonstration of their covenant faithfulness will draw all peoples and nations into a bonded relationship with their only God and Father" (see International Bible Commentary 1272). It is this people in whom the rest of the world will be able to behold what is true, what is good, what is holy. It is also in this people that the world can likewise discern what is false, what is evil, what is of the devil. It matters less that each and all are perfect than that the People, as God's kingdom, continue to officially teach truth, and officially model a life that is holy. The Church illumines the revelation of God to the nations, because reasoning minds alone are unable to know the natural law with sufficient clarity and vigor. As Cardinal Ratzinger told members of the Pontifical Biblical commission:

"In today's world there is a growing effort to affirm non-denominational ethics -- a so-called 'lay morality'-- on the basis of reason alone, independent of all divine revelation." Any such effort was bound to be "fragile and limited," because it could not take into account the ultimate realities of human life and human weakness. A Christian, he continued, should realize that he cannot "understand his faith, nor his moral life," except in the light of Biblical revelation (, April 20,2004).

The people of God must be salt that continually keeps its savor and tang, must be the shining light that illumines the way for the world until the end of time. And because pastors personify the Church, are its official teachers, are appointed as ambassadors of the Church and of Christ, therefore whatever they teach must be genuine doctrine, and whatever they model as Christianity must be identifiable with the Sermon on the Mount. When a worldly-wise UN blathers: "condoms for AIDS" the Vatican must teach: "Au contraire, abstinence and faithfulness is the way of the Lord."

And why should the people of God invest their lives in following a wisdom which is not of this world? The final reason that Christ gives is: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Like father, like son. We are children of God. We must take on the being and behavior of our divine Parent. The Creator wants us to be like Himself insofar as this is possible to a creature.

For St. Thomas, there is a trace of God to everything he created -- elements, plants animals, man and angels. He sees man as the "image of God" as we read in Genesis One because man thinks and loves in a way that is similar to the inner life of God. Man must be understood from his end or purpose, which is the vision and possession of God in knowledge and love; this cannot he fully achieved in this life, but it will be in the next life for those who die in the state of grace as friends of God (Kenneth Baker, S.J., Homiletic and Pastoral Review, book review, February 2004, p.75).

Heaven will be heaven for us because we see that we are like God. It would be hell for us were we not transparent to God's light which would zap our murky ugliness. So no matter what the fashion of the day is like, and what political correctness dictates to us, we are the Christian family that listens to the Sermon on the Mount, and not to the sermon of this world. In our ears we continue to hear the good word of Jesus: "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."