Saturday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

In commenting on these verses from today’s Gospel, Saint John Chrysostom writes:

“He has prohibited anyone from swearing by his head, for in doing so one would be worshiping himself. Rather, Jesus intends to refer all glory to God, signifiying that human beings are not finally masters of themselves. Oaths made by the head are thus discredited. For if no one would relinquish his own child to another, how much more will God refuse to relinquish his own work to you? For though it be your head, yet it remains the property of another. For he did not say, “You cannot make one hair grow” but “You cannot make one hair white or black” or change its quality.

What is it then that exceeds a simple yes or no? It is the oath, not the perjury. For lying is openly acknowledged to be wrong, and no one needs to learn that it is of the Adversary. It is not an excess but a deficiency. An excess, though, means something more, something over and above the statement itself. This is the nature of an oath.

Someone might then object: If the evil one is the source of all oaths, how could they have found a place in God’s law? Well, we could say much the same thing about Jesus’ teaching on divorce. How is divorce now accounted adultery, particularly when divorce was permitted by Moses? What can we reply? The precepts Moses uttered at that time accounted for the weakness of those who were receiving the laws.

Just as a lisp is unworthy of a philosopher, so the scent of burnt offerings is unworthy of God. Our understanding of the principles of virtue has advanced beyond the time of Moses. Therefore divorce is now seen to be adultery and the necessity of an oath to be from the evil one. If the earlier laws had been devilish from the first, they would never have resulted in such goodness. Had Moses’ laws not been forerunners, Jesus’ teaching would not have been so easily received. Don’t require a present excellence from past laws, when their usefulness has now been surpassed. Still, if you wish to retain them, even now they demonstrate their virtue. They show their virtue most of all through the fault we discover by their aid. The faults we now see commend them most to us. For had they not brought us up well and prepared us for the reception of the greater precepts, they would not have appeared as good.

It is similar with the breast of the mother; when it has fulfilled its task, it dismisses the child to a more mature diet and after that appears useless. Thus the mother who once viewed it as necessary for the baby now taunts with ten thousand mockeries the child’s need for the breast. Breastfeeding is over. In the same way, Christ says that the ancient laws are from the evil one, not to indicate that the old law is of the devil but in order that he might with great earnestness lead them away from their ancient poverty.” (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 17.)

O God, from Whom all good things come,
grant that we, who call on You in our need,
may at Your prompting discern what is right,
and by Your guidance do it.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen