First Reading Sirach 15:15-20 Second Reading 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Gospel Matthew 5:17-37 Intention Engaged couples
Are you a person of integrity? Can people take you at your word? If You can answer, I am, then folks know that your ‘Yes’ means ‘Yes,’ and our ‘No,’ means ‘No.’ Or, as Pilate once said – or someone around here says – “What I have spoken, I have spoken.”
Every Jew in Jesus’ day knew these words: “…ye have heard that it has been said by them of old time, you shalt not forswear thyself…” We call it perjury – a willful act of swearing a false oath or of falsifying the truth.
Last week was National Marriage Week during which the church prayed: “Let’s strengthen marriage.” This week our community intention is for engaged couples. How appropriate that Justin Barthle, John’s son, is getting married on Sunday. May their commitment be without reservation: Let their YES be yes.
You see, a vow doesn’t need an oath. Jesus made it clear that our yes is enough to satisfy the binding requirement. With a vow what we say is what we mean. If we do not mean it, if we, or a marrying couple, hold on to “except when” or “unless” or “until it’s not working or it doesn’t fulfill me – then I’m out of here’ – that’s perjury, a false oath. We vow with “no strings attached.”
As vowed Benedictines what do we do to insure we are truly life-long learners – committed to a perpetual pursuit of growth in the monastic way of life? What do we do to expand our knowledge of the writings of the fathers and mothers of the church? Our familiarity with the Rule of Benedict? In particular, how deeply do we delve into Scripture to realize new, fuller meaning of God’s Word? What do I hear today that somehow I never heard before?
Do we strive to enlarge the understanding and application of our vow of obedience? Has our observance of obedience matured beyond a childish fear of a parent finding out we took an extra cookie or a beginner’s strict adherence to every regulation to please her director or because she worries that the whole community is watching her day and night? What does obedience mean to us? What is legitimate authority? In a spirit of mutual obedience do we conscientiously seek input from a superior and spiritual elder? Suppose what is offered is not what I had in mind? Do I give it serious consideration or was my asking simply pro forma? Do I give a half-hearted acquiescence to a superior’s request as merely a suggestion or the call of the Spirit in my life to follow or not as I choose? How distressing it can be to have someone say “yes” – pretend she’s going to obey – but then never perform the deed or show by her every comment to others and her body language that she detests the command
What if the group makes a decision I don’t like – do I have any obligation to follow it if I voted against it? What about annoying behaviors – not immoral actions, just a behavior that grates on another’s nerves? Like, for instance, if you use earplugs to listen to music but hum along or keep time by drumming audibly on the desk – knowing all the time that it is driving the other up the walls. It’s not bad to play an “air drum” is it? And the other could leave the room if she doesn’t like it. I am not playing the music out loud … do I stop the drumming or sit there justified that it is my right to give expression to the music. It’s not a sin to hum or beat out the rhythm, is it? Or is it? Here’s the authentic test question: how closely does our behavior mirror Benedict’s “deference to one another?”
To keep our “yes” a “yes” takes much prayer, honest introspection, willingness to open our hearts to new meanings and a spirit of grounded integrity. Otherwise, our vows, a couple’s marriage bonds, are not worth the piece of paper they are written on.
This is where our vow of stability comes into play. With our vow we are publicly professing responsibility to work on fidelity to our covenant with God and our commitment to one another. That takes an awareness of what is going on inside of ourselves, and a responsibility for how we might be contributing to the building up or destruction of a bond into which we’ve entered. Remember: if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
In this Gospel reading Jesus is talking about a lifetime pursuit of a way of living, in which our integrity isn’t just a matter of external conformity, but an internal way of life. There’s that sticky vow of conversion of life. This calls for strength and integrity, an inner discipline, an awareness of and acknowledgement of what makes us tick. Our words should simply be our bond, and mean what we say.
When we say yes, you should speak it with enough conviction that there’s no doubt. When you say no, mean it. If you sometimes say yes with your lips when your heart is thinking NO WAY! People will pick up on that. When in my heart I say NO, but my lips say yes…that’s deceit, it’s a lie. My tongue speaks what my heart isn’t feeling. I’m lying to myself and to another person. If I solemnly say “I promise I’m telling you the truth,” does that mean that sometimes I’m not telling the truth?
One of the angels in the Book of Revelation tells us: I know what you have done; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! But because you are neither, I am going to spit you out of my mouth! “
Ultimately our relationships with other people are inseparable from our relationship to God; and it is the love of God that binds all in all. It is God’s love that teaches us about relatedness, about truth, about personal integrity. Heed Jesus’ words: Let your YES be YES and your NO be NO!