“…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.” Matthew 5:33-37 (The Message)
Today, let’s read the text again. This time in the Good News Translation:
“You have also heard that people were told in the past, ‘Do not break your promise, but do what you have vowed to the Lord to do.’ But now I tell you: do not use any vow when you make a promise. Do not swear by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by earth, for it is the resting place for his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not even swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white or black. Just say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – anything else you say comes from the Evil One.”
Lace is pretty. Lace can really dress up a table or fancy up a dress. I’m always awed by the meticulous detail of a really fine lace – not being artistic, I just can’t imagine the time and patience it must take in order to create by hand a perfectly designed and symmetrical piece of lace!
The thing about lace, though, is that it isn’t necessary. Doilies, tablecloths, dresses – all can be made from a simpler, more functional fabric. And the thing about our talk is that religious lace isn’t necessary, either. Everything we need to say – from promises to prayers, answers to questions and thinking out loud – can be said in a simpler, more functional way. Jesus appears to be telling us that dressing up our speech, whether it’s to sound more religious or make our words seem more important, isn’t just manipulative and wrong… it’s also EVIL. (Think cheesy, gaudy, polyester lace and run away!)
There’s something else to be noted about lace. Compared to the more practical fabric options, real lace is expensive! We pay dearly, sometimes, for the opportunity to display such finery. (This is, after all, the reason we might choose lace, isn’t it?)
Displaying religious lace, whether spoken or unspoken, is also always costly. And at the expense of what – our witness to the watching world? Our relationship with the Author of creation? Our effectiveness in the Kingdom of God? It’s a head-scratcher, really. Why would we try to embellish something that is already simple, functional and practical – like a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?
Most women like to talk (at least, that’s what men will tell you). There are days when I talk so much that my jaw gets tired and my throat feels thick and swollen (I’m sorry if you’ve seen me on those days)! While our many words may on some days serve a purpose, I am quite sure there are many times when what comes out of our mouths seems pretty lacy.
On this Day Three of our Literal 4 Lent experiment, why not make a concerted effort to let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no,’ and see what happens? One predictable by-product of this literal application of Jesus’ teaching is that, because we won’t be speaking so much, we may HEAR much more than we usually do.
This discipline of resisting the urge to over-speak may even end up being spiritual money-in-the-bank, as we choose to dress up in the less costly/more practical fabric of truth, leaving the lace-gilded versions on the rack where they belong.