From now on, brethren, we regard nobody from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (R./)
My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings. (R./)
It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion. (R./)
The Lord is compassion and love,
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
His wrath will come to an end;
he will not be angry for ever. (R./)
For as the heavens are high above the earth
so strong is his love for those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west
so far does he remove our sins. (R./)
Jesus said to his disciples,
"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.' But I say to you, Do not swear 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 swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one."
Some statements in today's readings suggest that we are already saved, in a way that prevents us ever sliding back into sinful or selfish ways. St Paul wants us to project our thoughts forward to imagine the kingdom of God as fully realised on the earth. He writes that, "Since one died for all, all have died." "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old order has passed away; now all is new."
The kingdom of God is a wonderful idea and glorious dream, but we still wonder how much of Jesus' teachings could really be applied in this world of ours? Admittedly, some Christians try to follow them literally, and keep their speech simple and exact, as honest as the blue sky on a spring morning. Most people, however, feel the need to say more than a crisp "Yes" or an absolute "No." We consider it fair to have our ID card checked out, our driver's license verified, and are willing in court to swear on the Bible that our words are true. We and our world are not yet fully there, in kingdom mode.
Yes, somehow we are already sealed and anointed by the Spirit who is the pledge of eternal life. By the grace of God we are part of that new creation, but we also need God to be patient and forgiving as we stumble on our pilgrim way towards the Kingdom. It is helpful to consider ourselves as still growing up in Christ. We are wounded healers, and God has not finished with us yet.
Jesus rejects the taking of oaths, the kind of swearing that seeks to control God for one's own purposes, swearing by heaven, God's throne, or by earth, God's footstool, or by Jerusalem, the city of God. The wrongness of taking the name of God in a trivial way was recognised in Jewish tradition, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain".
What's wrong with swearing an oath or making a vow? First, he is not saying we should refuse to make an oath if we are asked to do so in court. (In fact, Jesus himself replied under oath at his trial in Jerusalem, Matt 26:64). And the wedding ceremony would be much poorer if spouses were not allowed make vows of fidelity to each other! What Jesus means is that Christians should be totally trustworthy and completely honest, whatever the circumstances. We should hardly ever need to swear an oath or make a vow, because we should be people who always speak the truth.
Jesus wants his followers to be people whose YES always means YES and whose NO means NO. To be reliable characters who always keep their word, that is, people of total integrity. If we are people like that, then there will be simply no need for us to swear oaths. It is enough to make our statements on our word of honour. If we break our word of honour, we deserve whatever penalty is attached to such a lie. What a pity that perjury seems to be an all too common occurrence in our courts and tribunals.