Read Matthew 5:33-37
33-37 “And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong. (THE MESSAGE)
Telling the truth is a bit more complex than we may think. We need to take into account not only the facts, but our motivations, our tone of voice. Integrity is connected to intention. Do we have an intention to deceive even if we are speaking factually?
Many years ago a railway track signalman was charged with negligence when he failed to warn an oncoming train of a track washout. He was asked if he had waved a warning lantern and he replied that he had done so. He was let off. He was later heard to mutter, “Just as well they didn’t ask if the lantern was lit”. He had stated a fact but not told the truth.
Our text today is a paraphrase of Jesus speaking about swearing oaths. Which, incidentally, has no direct relevance to oaths we might swear in a court. Though the principle remains. We ought to speak the truth no matter what oaths we do or do no swear. We should not need elaborate rituals or language to ensure truthfulness. We should be people whose words are trusted without resorting to oaths or extravagant promises.
Truthfulness is both very complex and very simple.