Oath is a four letter swear word – Matthew in Advent day 4

It has become an increasingly common sight these days to see padlocks fastened to bridges where there is a metal handrail. While I find it sweet for couples to leave a momento of their love, the traditional way was to carve it into a tree trunk, this new way has problems, ornate wrought iron work can be hidden, I love a good bit of wrought iron, and in extreme and rare cases the safety of the bridge is compromised. It is an expense to councils to remove hundreds of padlocks, many of which have rusted.

I have a different momento of my love. It is a gold ring, third finger, left hand.

Padlocks fastened to struts on a metal bridge in Frankfurt, Germany.
Picture used under a creative commons licence.

The Gospel of Matthew is written as a series of six narrative sections, telling the story of Jesus’ life, interspersed with five sections of teaching. The beginning of the Gospel links back into the past of the Old Testament. This, the last of the teaching sections, links forward to the future. Advent is a time when we look forward to the return of Christ.

Woe 3: Greedy for gain or hungry for holiness

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

Matthew 23:16-22 NIV UK

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:6 NIV UK

As ever this needs close looking at. The apocalyptic writing style used by Matthew in chapters 23 to 25 is a coded message looking at something deeper. Not that the obvious meaning of the verse should be ignored, it should not and is still valid, but there’s something else going on here looking to the future.

When bishop David Shepherd’s book Bias to the Poor was released in 1984 it caused a stir, surely God isn’t biased, said his critics. Yet the Bible shows a biased God. “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” says Psalm 68:5. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” said Paul in Galatians 3:28.

Paul said that all lives matter in God’s kingdom, but all are not equal on earth. All lives being equally important is the force behind a number of protest movements, and rightly so.

All lives will not matter until poor lives matter.
All lives will not matter until widows lives matter.
All lives will not matter until orphan lives matter.
All lives did not matter until Greek lives mattered.
All lives will not matter until slave lives matter.
All lives will not matter until female lives matter.

And moving on from the Bible to modern day examples:

All lives will not matter until black lives matter.
All lives will not matter until LGBTQ+ lives matter.
All lives will not matter until transgender lives matter.
All lives will not matter until disabled lives matter.
All lives will not matter until neurodivergent lives matter.
All lives will not matter until mentally ill people matter.

It is a matter of holiness, living by the standards of the kingdom of God means that we fight for the rights of those who have no rights.

The Pharisees, going back to the passage, said that you could swear by the gold in the temple or by the gifts on the altar but oaths on the temple or alter itself were not valid. The gifts went to the people in charge. Priests and Levites ate the meat of sacrificial animals. These Pharisees were after their own gain. Only the lives of Pharisees mattered to them. They were hungering and thirsting for food and drink, for wealth and personal prestige and not for God’s kingdom to come on earth.

A prayer:

Lord Jesus, you taught us to pray that our Father’s kingdom may come on Earth as it is in Heaven. May you make it so.
Amen


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