When Jesus went up on the mountain with his disciples and taught them his famous beatitudes, he followed his discourse with a range of other teachings about the Ten Commandments and the Jewish laws of Moses.
One of Jesus’ teachings dealt with what we know of as the Eighth Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. He expressed his teaching this way: “Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all …. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33–37)
Jesus was telling his disciples that they should not appeal to any external authority to guarantee the truthfulness of what they say because everybody should already know for certain that they, the followers of Christ, are honest, truthful men of total integrity.
The “father of lies” (John 8:44) appears to be very much at work in our lives these days, with politicians, within corporations and in society as a whole. Our daily news is filled with reports of investigating committees aiming to get at the truth. So many falsehoods swirl around us that it is easy to turn cynical and despair of ever hearing the truth.
The standard oath administered in court trials in our country has always been: “Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” The troubling question we face these days is this: Is that oath taken seriously and does it mean anything anymore? It appears now that it is taken seriously only after one is caught telling a deliberate lie. Only then is it consequential.
To be sure, this is nothing new. After all, it was Pontius Pilate who stated: “Truth, what is truth?” and then proceeded to have Jesus crucified.
So what can we do? The answer is to always speak the truth, the whole truth, plainly and as best we know it. As it was with the disciples, people who know you, a follower of Jesus in his way, truth and life, should always know that you are a person of integrity – one who speaks nothing but the truth.
Father Charles Irvin is the founding editor of FAITH Magazine and is retired.