Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 7:6 – May 11, 2012)
I think I’ve heard part of this verse bandied about as good advice for my whole life: “Don’t cast your pearls before swine.” I suppose what is meant by this is that one’s good effort or good thoughts should not offered to (or wasted on) those who aren’t cultured, educated, or intelligent enough to appreciate them. A lot of biblical commentaries say the verse is a warning by Jesus to his followers that we should not offer biblical doctrine to those who are unable to value and appreciate it, but I don’t think it’s that at all . . . not when one considers the whole text. ~ This proverb appears at the end of the so-called “Sermon on the Mount”. It is preceded by the advice to take care of one’s own problems before criticizing another (“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” – Matt. 7:3) It is followed by admonitions to ask, seek, and knock, and a description of God as a caring father. That which precedes and follows this proverb is clear and straight-foward; why would one not take this to be equally plainspoken? In addition, why is the warning at the end of this proverb so often ignored: “they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you”? I don’t believe this admonition is about not offering biblical doctrine to those who are unable to appreciate it, not at all! However, it might be about setting that aside for the moment while something else is attended to. ~ I have read commentary actually suggesting that what Jesus is saying to not throw to the dogs (and his hearers would have understood these to be roving packs of wild dogs), the “holy things,” are the choice parts of the animals sacrificed in the Temple, the parts that are supposed to be God’s! C’mon!!! Would a wild dog thrown a t-bone steak trample it under foot and maul the person giving it? No! The dog would devour that meat and beg for more. As a metaphor for not sharing the gospel (“biblical doctrine”), that’s rather a massive fail! Wouldn’t one want your recipients to “feed upon” the gospel and seek more? ~ And note this also, nowhere here does Jesus suggest that one shouldn’t throw something to the dogs, or cast something before the swine. ~ So here’s what I’m thinking today. What this is is good advice to consider carefully what you are throwing or casting in your mission work and outreach, and when you are throwing it. To dogs, throw that which dogs need. Dogs don’t need “holy things”. Wild dogs have very basic needs: food, water, shelter. If they have those, they might be tamed; “holy things” like companionship and affection might be offered later. I don’t know enough about wild pigs (or any pigs, for that matter), but I suspect the message is the same. Give them that which is meaningful and useful for them, and leave the jewelry for later. ~ If this admonition, this proverb is metaphorical of anything, it is a metaphor for doing for others in the way that most and best meets the needs of the moment – not the needs of the giver to “spread the gospel”, but the needs of the recipient whatever they may be. It’s just another way of saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (He might have said, “Do unto the dogs and the swine as you would have others do unto you,” but that just doesn’t have that learned-rabbi ring to it, does it?)