Bishop Glen John Provost

Bishop of Lake Charles

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Lake Charles, Louisiana

February 12, 2017
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’  Anything more is from the evil one.”  Matthew 5:37

That is the parting comment of Jesus’ teaching about oaths.  “[D]o not swear at all,” He says (Matthew 5:34).   When your “Yes” means “Yes” and your “No” means “No,” there is no need for an oath because you are “a man of your word.”    

The Christian life always calls us to something more than the letter of the law.   This is what this Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount is all about.  Jesus came not to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill them, to teach us that there is more to the law than what is merely written.    There is more to killing than taking someone’s life.  We can kill with words.   There is more to adultery than the act of infidelity.   We commit adultery with our lustful thoughts and our use of pornography.  And in the case of divorce, Jesus says it is not an option for His follower.  In a world where divorce was permitted in both Gentile and Jewish law, this was a remarkably bold teaching, indeed radical and revolutionary.  Jesus simply makes clear that His follower is not supposed to be like everybody else.  If killing is forbidden, then the Christian goes a step further and forgives.  If adultery is prohibited, then the Christian should live a chaste life, in thought and in deed.   If divorce is permitted, then the Christian is to live as a counter witness.   “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’”        

There are many important lessons contained in this expansion of the commandments.   I would point out one more particular admonition, which is that we should take responsibility for our actions.   It would be easy, for example, for someone to say he had never killed anyone while at the same time knowing full well that he had ruined someone’s reputation.    It would be easy also for someone to congratulate himself for never having broken up a marriage, yet to know for a fact that he had “committed adultery … in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).   But this is what, I am afraid, we so often do.   We follow the letter of the law and ignore its spirit.    In a day and age in which we are all too ready to absolve ourselves of responsibility or make accommodations for the sake of some phony sense of “keeping the peace,” this teaching from the Sermon on the Mount makes us pause and take a hard look at our lives and our society.   Jesus meant these teachings to be a challenge.   The Christian life is not easygoing.   Nothing worthwhile ever is. 

Christians are called to a higher standard.   This is the long and short of it.  It is said that pagans in the beginning centuries of Christianity’s history admired the early Christians.    “See how they love one another.”   They were not wishy-washy, cold one minute and hot the next, willing to compromise their moral standards, preaching one thing and doing another.   Their “Yes” meant “Yes” and their “No” meant “No.”

May God instill in us a desire to live beyond the letter, to take seriously the teachings of Christ.    Jesus expects more of us, to embody the very soul of Christianity in our words and actions.   Only then will our “Yes” mean “Yes” and “No” mean “No.”