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Monday, August 16, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Matthew 23

As our nation grows increasingly diverse, lots of historical practices have been called into question. That’s because those practices were based upon the assumption that our country was homogenous (i.e. people of European descent who were Christian). This process of calling long-held practices into question makes some people extremely nervous.

One such practice is asking people in civil situations to place their hands on a Bible while taking an oath. This practice is used in several different circumstances. Public officials – like Presidents of the United States – are often sworn into office using a Bible. Individuals testifying in court cases have also traditionally been asked to place their hands on a Bible as they promise to tell the truth.

More and more folks are calling these practices into question as the number of individuals in our country who are not Christian continues to increase. “How appropriate is it for a person from another faith tradition to be asked to take an oath using a resource from outside their faith tradition?” some have asked.

In addition to that valid question, there are reasons for questioning such a practice that come from within our Christian tradition as well. Today’s passage provides a good example of one of those reasons. “You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his [or her] fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he [or she] swears with his [or her] hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance,” Jesus is quoted as saying. “Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands?”

”And what about this piece of trivia: ‘If you shake hands on a promise, that’s nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that’s serious’? What ridiculous hairsplitting! What difference does it make whether you shake hands or raise hands? A promise is a promise.”

The Jesus concluded: “God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.”

That teaching reminds me of how often we human beings get caught up in all of the rituals and trappings in our daily lives, and completely lose sight of what’s really important. What if, for instance, all those individuals who get so worked up at the prospect of public official not using the Bible to take oaths diverted all of the energy they expended into protesting such possibilities and redirected those energies into living lives of integrity and truth themselves: in their business practices, in their families, in their hearts. What a difference that would make!

Today, I would encourage you to spend time to see if there is a practice or routine that you engage in that has become more about the routine than about what it was meant to represent. If you find such an area, try changing up your routine and seeing if that helps you get back to those things that really matter.

Til next time …

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