KEEPING YOUR PROMISES
Pastor Vernon Giesbrecht
Are you a person of your word? Do you keep your promises? Are you characterized by integrity? Do you always tell the truth? It seems that Frankie Szymanski did.
A number of seasons ago, the Notre Dame star center appeared in a South Bend court as a witness in a civil suit. “Are you on the Notre Dame football team this year?” asked the judge. “Yes, your honor,” replied Frankie. “What position?” “Center, your honor.” “How good a center?” Szymanski squirmed in his chair, but in confident tones admitted, “Sir, I’m the best center Notre Dame ever had.” Coach Frank Leahy, also in the courtroom, was surprised because the young man had always been modest and unassuming. When proceedings were adjourned, the coach asked him why he had made such a statement. Szymanski blushed. “I hated to do it, coach,” he explained, “but after all, I was under oath.”
We smile, however, in Matthew 5: 33-37, Jesus took the religious leaders of His day to task for degrading the meaning of truthfulness, honesty, and promise-keeping. Here is what He said:
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
The religious leaders had developed elaborate rules on oath-taking and making vows. They were forbidden to utter God’s name, so an oath was considered as binding as to how closely it related to God. So, people were swearing by heaven, by the earth, by Jerusalem, etc., fully knowing they were not bound by their promises. Swearing an oath became meaningless because it was so common place. Instead of the practice being a mark of integrity, it had become a mark of deceit.
Jesus exposed their false logic by reminding them that heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and whatever else they would appeal to, could not be disconnected from God. One cannot separate the Creator from His creation. To carelessly and dishonestly call any part of His creation as witness to a false oath is to dishonor God Himself. Essentially, Jesus was challenging them to simply be people of their word.
It forces us to ask ourselves: “What promises have we made; what vows have we taken? Have we even used God’s name as is sadly too often the practice today?” Our relationships depend on our promises. Our marriages are built on a sacred promise. It is the glue that should keep us together. A friendship soon cools when one person doesn’t keep their word. Workplace research reveals that the behavior of employees that disturb executives the most is dishonesty and lying. According to one vice-president, all other positive qualities of an individual become meaningless if he believes they lacks integrity.
During this time of covid-19 and social isolation, have we made promises to contact individuals who might need an encouraging word? Have we carelessly said we would make that grocery run for an elderly person and forgotten or, out of fear, not carried through? Have we promised to pray for someone and it has slipped our mind? (Ouch!) Have we made a “vow” to give regularly to my church and its ministry, or other worthy ministries, during this unsettling and economically alarming time? The list could go on.
The late seminary professor and author, Dr. Lewis Smedes reminds us: “Promise keeping is the bedrock of all social relationships. When we no longer depend on one another to do what we said we would do, the future becomes an undefined nightmare. When we make promises (and keep them – my addition), we create an island of certainty in a heaving ocean of uncertainty.”
Jesus’ challenge does ring true: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Frankie Szymanski seemed to understand this. I hope we do too.