Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one. — Matthew 5:37
There’s an old saying: “He’s a man of his word.” It refers to the practice of making an agreement or a contract with a handshake. The person involved had a reputation for honesty, integrity, and being true to their word. They didn’t try to trick you with a lot of talk. They said what they meant and meant what they said. I think it’s what Jesus was talking about in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, in so many words, “Say what you mean and shut up!”
When I think about what Jesus said to people long ago about integrity, I think of two things that are in the news today. I think of people running for public office. There are people who will say what you want to hear in order to get you to vote for them. They don’t necessarily mean everything they say; they say things in order to manipulate a favorable outcome for them.
In a world where people lived with integrity, and in a world where people cared about honesty, we would vote for the person who was honest. And public officials would have the courage to be honest about the problems we faced and the complexity of the solutions. Instead, we hear sound bytes that appeal to our fears and prejudices.
The second thing I think about is the public space of the internet. We are like politicians when it comes to much of what we post on line. We’re trying to impress someone. We’re trying to make ourselves look good. Our “yes” can mean “look how impressive I am” and our “no” can mean “look how bad that person is.” We give in to the temptation to do way more than just say what is true.
And we worry about privacy. When you think about it, if we lived with integrity, if what you saw in me was what you got, I would have nothing to hide. If I was like the person described in Psalm 15, I wouldn’t worry about who could see where I shopped or where I browsed on line.
Psalm 15 describes the person of integrity. Such a person “does no damage with their talk, does no harm to a friend, doesn’t insult a neighbor; they keep their promise even when it hurts; they won’t accept a bribe.”
We all could stand to be more like that. And we could stand to have a whole lot more people like that in public office. People who would have the courage to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out. It’s a complex problem, and here’s what I’d like to try.” Hearing something like that from our leaders would be a breath of fresh air.
And then, of course, there is the matter of how each one of us will seek God’s transforming grace to become more like that ourselves. So that when people hear us talk, they can trust what we say. So that our lives, words and deeds are a breath of fresh air to a cynical world.