Monday, February 4, 2013

Yes and No and Little White Lies

My mother-in-law says 'Yes' when she means No. She says 'No' when she means Yes. Since her stroke, we have learned that her words do not always align with her intentions. Yes and No are a guessing game. Marcie is an aphasic; she cannot help herself.

I, on the other hand, have full control of my word choice and intonation. I can say 'Yes' in several languages and to the tune of numerous pop songs. I can type No on a myriad of digital platforms, employing a variety of fonts, colors, and MODIFIications. And I can lie with ease.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exposed the human tendency to deceive. In his day, the oath provided a verbal guise for dishonesty. To give credence to one's promise or pronouncement, a person would call heaven or earth to stand witness (Matthew 5:33-37).

33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

The Pharisees, Jesus' legalistic opponents, were notorious for manipulating oaths to embellish their claims (Matthew 23:16-22). They swore on temple gold to cover their lies. Jesus saw through their ploys, and sees through our forced smiles, online personnas, hollow greetings, and awkward laughs. To Him, every deception sounds like an oath on our grandmother's grave. Empty.

Sadly, as much as I know this to be true, I still deceive. Last week, my sin reared its ugly head. Someone asked about my due diligence on a project. I answered with the swagger of a politician. "I'm waiting for a reply." Technically, I spoke truth--I had not heard back--then again, I had never asked in the first place.

My diligence was overdue, but I didn't want to admit it. (In fact, if I were truly honest, I should not have offered to help in the first place. I knew I'd struggle to complete the task.) Hating to disappoint, I deceived. A greater crime, no doubt.

Yes and No sound simple enough, but they are hard words when we stare into the face of someone whom we may disappoint. We want respect and affection. We may win favor with a few false statements, but we cannot sustain friendship in a field littered with lies. Jesus knows best: Honesty is the only policy.

Reflections on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (4th in the series of 6 antitheses)

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