33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. — Matthew 5.33-37
In Jesus’ day, as in our own, God’s name was invoked in a variety of circumstances, many of which were anything but “hallowed” (as Jesus will pray in the Lord’s Prayer in chapter 6). In particular, it was culturally acceptable to entreat YHWH’s name as validation of truth in the course of an argument, legal or otherwise. We might think today of someone swearing “to God” in an effort to affirm the “truthiness” (as Stephen Colbert would say) of their speech. In the course of His sermon, Jesus confronts this milieu of nonchalance with regard to the name of God and yet again calls His audience to a redemptive standard of living.
Truth-telling emerges here as a hallmark of the in-breaking Kingdom reign of God. Citizens of God’s Kingdom embrace the principles of eternity in the present, speaking truth, the language of heaven. Jesus seems to be saying that His followers should make every effort to not only speak truthfully but to live truthfully as well. It’s fair enough to say that Jesus wanted His followers to hallow the name of the Father more than they did; but that’s not saying enough. Jesus stresses the manner of life that clearly demonstrates integrity and trust. “Be the type of people for whom ‘yes’ and ‘no’ really mean something.” As the living embodiment of truth (John 14.6), Christ is calling His disciples to partake of the Kingdom life in the present. With no room for deception and falsification in the coming Kingdom reign of YHWH, how much more should the citizens of that Kingdom commit themselves to the practice of the eternal principles of that Kingdom in the present?
Letting your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no” is more than a sermonic polemic against fibbing; it is a way of life that reflects the glory of the coming Kingdom, a Kingdom inaugurated in us by Jesus Messiah.