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Bible reflection: Say ‘yes’ if you mean yes, ‘no’ if you mean no

Michele Frankeni  |  11 June 2020

Gospel: Matthew 5:33-37

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learned how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’

Questions and reflection

Some 2000 years ago Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel anticipated ‘Doublespeak’ and ‘weasel words’. A ‘Weasel word’ is an informal term for words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific had been said, when in fact it is only an ambiguous statement. Weasel words can be numerically vague (some people, many, experts); passive voice (it is said), or adverbs that weaken (often, probably). Doublespeak is a language that deliberately obscures, disguises or distorts the meaning of words (downsizing for layoffs).

  • What examples of doublespeak or weasel words can you think of?
  • Do you know anyone who consistently uses such language?
  • Why is it important to be clear in your statements?

Mike and the Mechanics in The Living Years iterated Jesus’ statement well:
Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear

Reflection from
Saturday 13 June 2020
St Anthony of Padua
1 Kings 19:19-21. You are my inheritance, O Lord – Psalm 15(16):1-2, 5, 7-10. Matthew 5:33-37.

Say ‘yes’ if you mean yes, ‘no’ if you mean no.

St Anthony of Padua, whose feast day is commemorated today, is the patron saint of lost things. In my family, as with many other families, he’s the saint most called on, usually with success. But he is more than the finder of lost things. A Doctor of the Church, St Anthony was renowned as a powerful preacher with an expert knowledge of scripture.

Today’s Gospel is powerful in its own right. It does not contain any ‘weasel words’ or ambiguous statements. Do we say ‘yes’ if we mean yes and ‘no’ if we mean no? Or are there equivocation, half-hearted promises? Do we intend to do what is asked but know in reality that other commitments will result in us reneging on our promise? Are we honest and direct? Sometimes it seems easier to tell people what they want to hear, but failure to keep commitments may lead to misunderstanding, bitterness or regret. Perhaps we should remember the words of the elephant Horton (Dr Suess’ Horton Hatches the Egg). Tricked into sitting on an egg for a lazy bird, teased and tormented, Horton sticks to his task, repeating ‘I meant what I said, and I said what I meant’.

For other Dr Seuss titles that encompass Catholic Teaching, see Playlist: Imagining a better world and Four life-affirming moments in Horton hears a Who!


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