These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“… a false witness who breathes out lies …” (v.19) RSV
The Book of Deuteronomy spells out many laws and also gives the consequences of breaking them. The law we consider today is against bearing false witness (Deutoronomy 19:15-20). It is a very painful thing when people speak against you, whether to your face or behind your back.
The disciples were warned that this would happen. Indeed they were warned, “Beware when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). In other words, if they lived according to Christ’s commands (standing up for justice, being generous and speaking the truth in love), they would attract some opposition and criticism. If however they lived sheltered and flabby lives with no cutting edge, then they might be popular but their souls would be in peril.
Jesus was used to being criticised and slandered. He was accused of working “by the power of Beelzebub” (Matthew 12:27), and mocked for being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11:19).
Since we know how painful it is to have people speak evil about us, let us resolve not to misrepresent others. St Paul gives good advice when he writes, “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Again, he writes to the Romans, “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).
Once again this ‘deadly sin’ is recorded as the ninth commandment given to Moses on Mount Sinai. One way to safeguard against a false witness is never to accept the word of one person. There should always be at least two witnesses. Of course even this won’t work if they collude together. This is what Jezebel did; she trumped up false witnesses to accuse Naboth so that he was executed and King Ahab (her husband) got his vineyard. Read the story in ‘Explore More’.
Help me, O Lord, only to speak the truth, and nothing but the truth. If I have nothing good to say, then give me the grace to keep silent. Amen.
1 Read about the false witnesses who lied about Naboth.
“… feet that make haste to run to evil …” (v.18) RSV
Our ‘feet’ are a vivid picture used to express where we are going in life. You may know the verse that says: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who bring good tidings …” (Isaiah 52:7-10). He is not literally talking about the beauty of ‘feet’! He is referring to what the ‘feet’ symbolise: the message. All too often our ‘feet’ are taking us in the wrong direction. Instead of fleeing evil, or running to do good, or running into the arms of our Father, we are rushing headlong into sinful ways.
Do you remember how Jonah had been called by God to go to the wicked city of Ninevah to preach a message of forgiveness? Jonah instead ran off to catch a boat in the opposite direction. He sailed off to Tarshish (which we now know as the Costa del Sol!). In other words, he went on holiday instead of letting his feet take him to Ninevah.
St Paul picks up this idea of ‘feet’ recorded in Isaiah when he writes to the Ephesians. He describes the armour of God that we are to put on, and in particular he mentions that our ‘feet’ should be “shod … with the equipment of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).
The life of the believer is to be dedicated to bringing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. Our whole aim is to love God and to love our neighbour. Our intention is to do good and not evil. This should be the direction in which our ‘feet’ are pointing.
It is said of Jesus that “he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). In the end he resolutely set his face to go to Jerusalem in order to suffer and to die. He set off from the north (Galilee) and walked southwards. His direction was set by his desire to do good to all peoples. In similar way, the father (in the story of the prodigal son) “ran and embraced him” (Luke 15:20). God has great enthusiasm to do us good. Let us follow him (1 John 2:6) and let us flee from doing evil.
Dear Lord, keep me from running into danger, and direct my footsteps in ways that please you. Amen.
1 Who likened the Christian life to running a race?
“… a heart that devises wicked plans …” (v.18) RSV
Some people seem very good at plotting the downfall of others. Daniel’s peers in Babylon hated his success and his talents, and therefore they conspired to disgrace him. They knew he prayed three times a day before an open window that faced towards Jerusalem and the Temple. They therefore devised a plan. They got the King to sign a document to forbid anyone praying to anything or anyone except himself for a period of 30 days.
When Daniel heard of this he resolutely continued to do as before. His fellow ministers told the King, and that hapless man had no alternative but to throw Daniel into the den of lions. Mercifully the plot backfired because God shut the mouths of the lions. When Daniel was released the next day, his work colleagues were thrown in and were devoured immediately (Daniel 6:4-9).
The prophet Jeremiah angered powerful people in Jerusalem when he kept forecasting the destruction of that city and the exile of its people. They felt he was undermining morale, so they plotted to kill him by lowering him down into a cistern where he sank up to his armpits in mire. Fortunately others who had the king’s permission came by night, tied rags and old clothes together and hauled him out under cover of darkness (Jeremiah 38:6-13).
The worst plot of all was devised by Judas Iscariot who went to the enemies of Jesus and arranged to betray him in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:14-16). This resulted in the death of Jesus. However, God raised him from the dead, brought him out of the tomb (as he did Daniel out of the den, and Jeremiah out of the cistern).
Let us resolve not to plan against others to do them harm, to outmanoeuvre them at work, to cheat them out of their wife, or any other unworthy scheme. Let us seek to do good to all people, especially the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).
Father, forgive me when I have been too eager to devise evil schemes. Help me give my energy to doing good. Amen.
Killing is not condemned in the Bible, whether it be for a capital offence or in war. But murder is strongly condemned. The Lord is very protective of the innocent and the defenceless. No one has the right to take the life of an innocent person for whatever reason. Murder, whether out of the passion of the moment or premeditated, is not to be tolerated by society.
The first murder is found at the start of the Bible when Cain slew his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8). Cain was jealous of his brother’s goodness and his acceptability with God. Out of anger and envy he killed his innocent brother. Jesus mentions this archetypal murder when he says: “… upon you may come all the righteous blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah … who you murdered …” (Mathew 23:35).
Even if the murderer gets away with it in this life, he will not do so when he faces the Judge of all men.
Most of us may read this and feel we have not sinned in this way. Murder is abhorrent to us. Yet Jesus teaches us that murder is not only achieved by the literal shedding of blood, for we can murder people with the words we say and the attitude we adopt. In our reading today which is from the Sermon on the Mount, he says: “whoever insults … whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5: 21-22).
Our curses can be powerful and self-fulfilling. If we get angry or frustrated and start cursing children (especially our own), or other car drivers, or our boss, or work colleagues, we will end up doing them (and maybe ourselves too) irreparable harm.
But rather, as St Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14). Let us give life to people, rather than rob them of it.
Thank you Lord for those who have loved me and built me up. May I do good to others and not harm. Amen.