Remember the John Lovitz character Larry the Liar from Saturday Night Live? More words were always better as Larry tried every possible improbable answer until he landed on the one he thought best: “Yeah…that’s the ticket!” Larry reminds us of politicians and others who just babble on until we turn the channel.
What a contrast to Jesus, who answered accusers “You have said so,” then said nothing at all (Mt 26:25, 64; 27:11; Mk 15:2). Jesus, the Word made flesh, the son of I am Who I am, whose name reflects so much ineffable divine mystery that can’t be captured in words, knew that words have so much power they don’t need to be amplified with oaths.
Late ethics professor Glen Stassen said Jesus called for “transforming initiatives” in response to the old laws. In this case, simple truthfulness prevents a need to swear oaths. Glen tells about his German grandfather, who sold beautiful tomatoes at a farmers’ market. He took pride in his honesty and was highly offended when a woman checked to see if the bottom layers of tomatoes were as good as the ones on top. In his German accent, he said, “Dey’re da same t’rough an t’rough; ya don’t believe it, ya go buy somewhere else!” The rest of his life, Glen heard in his head, “True and true, through and through.”
But what about situations when not telling the truth might save lives, such as when Nazis asked about hidden Jews? Stassen points out that for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died in a Nazi prison, covenant makes a difference. Bonhoeffer considered himself in covenant with Christ, the church, the suffering, and his friends, but not with Nazis, so an obligation to tell them the truth wasn’t something he had promised.
May our covenant with Jesus—the way, the truth, and the life—guide us in all our truth-telling.
When do you need Christ to guide your truth-telling?
God, make us honest people who love the truth and the living in it. Amen.