Monday, January 19, 2009

Truth and Openness

Let your word be "Yes, Yes" or "No, No"; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
-Matthew 5:37
Continuing my slow, deliberate pace through Matthew, I came to the passage on oaths today.

I had reflected in previous days that Jesus' teachings on anger and adultery were both double-sided. That is, he first warns against being angry with a brother and then gives instruction on whaat to do if your brother is angry with you. Then he warns against "adultery of the heart" and then immediately follows it with prohibitions of actions that would force others into adultery (the sayings about divorce).

The double-sided nature of these teachings makes perfect sense if, as I previously concluded, Jesus is teaching a community to be a righteous community. None of us are in this alone, and so in everything we do, we must uphold one another.

With that as my personal context of understanding, I was looking for something similar in the teachings on oaths, but it isn't there. I thought about it, I considered that perhaps there is an implicit reciprocity in this. If everyone in the community is to "let their 'yes' be 'yes' and their 'no' be 'no,' it is encumbant upon the others to accept this as such. It requires trust.

But then I wondered, what if another person abuses this trust? Is this not poison to the community? How can it be remedied? That was as far as I got most of the day.

Then this evening, I picked up Joan Chittister's book on The Rule of Benedict, and the section I read tonight included Benedict's admonition, "Bind yourself to no oath, lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue."

Sister Joan comments, "Holiness, this ancient rule says to a culture that has made crafty packaging high art, has something to do with being who we say we are, claiming our truths, opening our hearts, giving ourselves to the other pure and unglossed." Good stuff. She may as well have been commenting on this section from the Sermon on the Mount, and I suppose indirectly she was, given that Benedict is so obviously referencing it.

So this reinforces my understanding of the main point, but it doesn't solve my problem of broken trust. When a coincidence like this comes along, I expect it to resolve my difficulties. :-)

Then I read on and saw that the very next thing Benedict talked about in his rule was bearing injuries patiently, loving your enemies and blessing those who curse you. And what do you know, that's going to be the next thing Jesus talks about too. Again, it may be that Benedict is simply following the order of the Sermon on the Mount, but either way it gave me my answer.

What do you do when someone you've trusted has lied to you? You bear it.

I don't think Jesus is telling me to be a dupe. I can recognize that I've been lied to. I suppose I can even tell the other person I know they've lied. (Would anything less be honest?) What I can't do is repay evil with evil. What I must do is react with love.

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