Do Not Throw Your Pearls Before Swine

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Matthew 7:6,12-14

6 “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you. 12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. 13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

This scripture passage has always intrigued me….I would say since my conversion 18 years ago.   What in the world could God mean when He says “do not give dogs what is holy and do not throw your pearls before swine”?..

One meditation on this is as follows:

Meditation: What can pearls and narrow gates teach us about God’s truth and holiness? In the ancient world pearls were of very great value and were even considered priceless. They were worn as prized jewels to make a person appear more beautiful and magnificent to behold. Holiness, likewise, is a very precious jewel that radiates the beauty of God’s truth, goodness, and glory. God offers us the precious gift of his holiness so that we may radiate the splendor of his truth and goodness in the way we think, speak, act, and treat others. We can reject or ignore this great gift, or worse yet, we can drag it through the mud of sinful behavior or throw it away completely.

Pearls before dogs and swine
Why does Jesus contrast holiness and pearls with dogs and swine (Matthew 7:6)? Some things don’t seem to mix or go together, like fire and water, heat and ice, sweat and perfume, pure air and poisonous vapors, freshly cleaned clothes and filthy waste. The Talmud, a rabbinic commentary on the Jewish Scriptures, uses a proverbial saying for something which appears incongruous or out of place: an ear-ring in a swine’s snout. Jesus’ expression about “pearls before swine” and “not giving dogs what is holy” is very similar in thought (Matthew 7:6). Jewish law regarded swine as unclean. Wild dogs were also treated as unfit for close human contact, very likely because they were dirty, unkept, lice-infested, and prone to attack or cause trouble.

What is the point of avoiding what is considered unclean? Jesus’ concern here is not with exclusivity or the shunning of others (excluding people from our love, care, and concern for them). His concern is with keeping spiritual and moral purity – the purity of the faith and way of life which has been entrusted to us by an all-holy, all-loving, and all-wise God. The early church referenced this expression with the Eucharist or the Lord’s Table. In the liturgy of the early church, a proclamation was given shortly before communion: Holy things to the holy. The Didache, a first century church manual stated: Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those baptised into the name of the Lord; for, as regards this, the Lord has said, ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs.’ The Lord Jesus invites us to feast at his banquet table, but we must approach worthily.

Jesus summed up the teaching of the Old Testament law and prophets with the expression, So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them (Matthew 7:12) – and in the same breath he raised the moral law to a new level of fulfillment and perfection. God’s law of love requires more than simply avoiding injury or harm to one’s neighbor. Perfect love – a love which is unconditional and which reaches out to all – always seeks the good of others for their sake and gives the best we can offer for their welfare. When we love our neighbors and treat them in the same way we wish to be treated by God, then we fulfill the law and the prophets, namely what God requires of us – loving God with all that we have and are and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

How can we love our neighbor selflessly, with kindness, and genuine concern for their welfare? If we empty our hearts of all that is unkind, unloving, and unforgiving, then there will only be room for kindness, goodness, mercy, and charity. Paul the Apostle reminds us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). It is the love of God that fuels our unconditional love for others. Are you ready to let the Holy Spirit transform your life with the purifying fire of God’s love?

The narrow gate and way
Jesus used a second illustration of a narrow gate which opens the way that leads to a life of security and happiness (Matthew 7:13-14) to reinforce his lesson about choosing the one true way which leads to peace with God rather than separation and destruction. The Book of Psalms begins with an image of a person who has chosen to follow the way of those who are wise and obedient to God’s word and who refuse to follow the way of those who think and act contrary to God’s law : Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2). When a path diverges, such as a fork in the road, each way leads to a different destination. This is especially true when we encounter life’s crossroads where we must make a choice that will affect how we will live our lives. Do the choices you make help you move towards the goal of loving God and obeying his will?

The Lord Jesus gives us freedom to choose which way we will go. Ask him for the wisdom to know which way will lead to life rather than to harm and destruction. See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil… Therefore choose life that you and your descendants may live (Deuteronomy 3:15-20). Choose this day whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15). Behold I set before you the way of life and the way of death (Jeremiah 21:8). If we allow God’s love and wisdom to rule our hearts, then we can trust in his guidance and help to follow his path of love, truth, and holiness.

“Let me love you, my Lord and my God, and see myself as I really am – a pilgrim in this world, a Christian called to respect and love all whose lives I touch, those in authority over me or those under my authority, my friends and my enemies. Help me to conquer anger with gentleness, greed by generosity, apathy by fervor. Help me to forget myself and reach out towards others.” (Prayer attributed to Clement XI of Rome)

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: Unreadiness to receive Godly teaching, by Augustine of Hippo, 430-543 A.D.

“Now in this precept we are forbidden to give a holy thing to dogs or to cast pearls before swine. We must diligently seek to determine the gravity of these words: holy, pearls, dogs and swine. A holy thing is whatever it would be impious to profane or tear apart. Even a fruitless attempt to do so makes one already guilty of such impiety, though the holy thing may by its very nature remain inviolable and indestructible. Pearls signify all spiritual things that are worthy of being highly prized. Because these things lie hidden in secret, it is as though they were being drawn up from the deep. Because they are found in the wrappings of allegories, it is as though they were contained within shells that have been opened.(1) It is clear therefore that one and the same thing can be called both a holy thing and a pearl. It can be called a holy thing because it ought not to be destroyed and a pearl because it ought not to be despised. One tries to destroy what one does not wish to leave intact. One despises what is deemed worthless, as if beneath him. Hence, whatever is despised is said to be trampled under foot… Thus we may rightly understand that these words (dogs and swine) are now used to designate respectively those who assail the truth and those who resist it.” (excerpt from SERMON ON THE MOUNT 2.20.68–69) (rc.net)

(1) The interpretive task is to crack through the shell of the language to its inner spiritual meaning.

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