Matthew 23, 16-18
Something to read
Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
King James Version
'Woe to you, blind guides, who say, "Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath." You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, "Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath."'
New Revised Standard Version
Something to think about
The hypocrisy of some scribes and Pharisees is illustrated by their attitude to swearing oaths. There's no rabbinic authority for the behaviour Jesus describes, but it's a very human thing to do: to claim that a promise you've made is not valid after all because you didn't make the promise in such a form that you can be held to it.
Jesus demonstrates that in any case the argument is back to front: an oath made 'by the temple' is just as binding as one made 'by the gold of the temple' because the gold derives its significance from the holiness of the place where it belongs. Underlying all this, though, are the lengths people go to to wriggle out of their promises – declaring some promises less binding than others.
The behaviour of some of today's politicians may also spring to mind! Or the behaviour of rich nations who fail to keep their promises of support to poor countries.
Something to do
Have you ever made a promise and failed to keep it? Think about how you justified this to yourself and to other people.
Something to pray
Lord Jesus, forgive me for breaking my promises. Thank you that your promise of eternal life for all who believe in you will never be broken.
Today's contributor is the Rev Dr Paula Clifford, Christian Aid's Head of Theology.