There is a singsong pattern to today’s Gospel reading. Jesus begins each passage with the phrase: “You have heard that it was said…” and then continues: “But I say to you…”
Jesus did not come to upend or disagree with the law but rather to fulfill it. He did, however, come to argue the point with those so called experts of that time who were the official interpreters of the law. They were the ones doing all the “saying”. But it was Jesus who would have the last word.
For example, he stated that ‘you have heard that it was said that you should not kill’… which I would say is a pretty good saying. I like that one. We shouldn’t kill. But Jesus takes it one step further by saying ‘but I say to you that harboring anger against another will subject you to a harsh judgement’. Jesus sets a high standard.
Later on, Jesus reminds his followers: “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’”
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
I found myself wondering as I contemplated this passage over the past week… this directive from Jesus… whether I myself consistently meet this high standard. Do I always mean what I say and say what I mean?
A lie is a lie, sure. But then there are those little white lies. There’s spin. There’s misrepresentation. There’s withholding certain information. There’s coloring the truth a wee bit. There’s exaggeration, embellishment, and evasion. We can all get rather clever in this regard and despite the black and white clarity of: “”Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.'”, there can be many shades of gray here when it comes to fulfilling Jesus’ wishes for us.
Jesus is doing more than holding us to a very high standard, however… he is keeping us from going down a treacherous path… for when we bend the truth, even just a bit, we become more and more comfortable doing so. We push the limits and we broaden our deceptions. It happens. It happens all the time. And sadly, we find ourselves lying to ourselves. Living in denial. This is a treacherous path.
Dostoyevsky once wrote: “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
The sacrament of reconciliation (also known as penance or confession) is offered as a way to stay off of that path… or to walk back from it once we find ourselves upon it. It is an opportunity, inside of a holy and sacred and safe place, to state… to confront… to embrace… the truth.
Jesus was wise enough to warn us about this danger. His church was wise enough to offer us this sacrament… as a shield… as a remedy.
Let us contemplate in our own lives whether our Yes means Yes and whether our No means No. Whether we are on or near that treacherous path. And if so, then let’s do something about that…