Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 6. Pigs and Pearls
Mt 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”
I think we sometimes take for granted what we read and if things don’t appear to ‘flow’ we just accept them as separate ideas that come into the minds of the writers. What, for instance, is the connection between this present verse and what has just gone before it?
In the start of what in our Bibles is chapter 7, Jesus has instructed us not to judge others (v.1,2). Then he gave a picture warning about the fact that when we do judge we forget the things that are wrong in our own lives (v.3-5) and so we arrive at verse 6 which brings balance to Jesus’ teaching and might be summed up as, “But nevertheless, be discerning!” Looking back at verse 1 this would clarify the meaning to be, “Don’t write off other people,” and goes on, “for the minor things in their lives when you have bigger problems yourself.” So how do we get to that?
In this picture-filled verse we have on one side things that are sacred and pearls, and then on the other side, not to give such things to dogs or pigs who will have no appreciation of them, and will even destroy them. Sacred things and pearls are easy; they are simply things that are precious, things of great value, things we should be careful how we handle, careful to look after.
Dogs, in Jesus day, were more often than not, not pets but wild, feral creatures living in the streets, scuffing in the mud looking for food scraps. If there were dogs in domestic use, they would be kept outside and used for guard purposes. Scripture has references to dogs snarling and cleaning up refuse on the streets (see Psa 59:6, Ex 22:31, 2 Kings 9:36). Indeed they came to be used as terms of abuse of enemies. Even in the New Testament they are used in a derogatory manner (see Phil 3:2, Rev 22:15). Pigs, of course, were a rejected meat and their behaviour in a sty is well known, scuffing in the mud and filth. Jesus can’t really find any worse examples of those who scuff in the mud and are careless about what they encounter. It is almost like he is saying, “Can you think of worse place to leave or even lose your most precious things? You know how these two creatures would treat them, so whatever you do, be discerning and don’t leave your sacred things and your things of great value to those who will have no respect whatsoever for them but will simply scuff them in the mud until they are either destroyed or lost.”!
So who are such people? Does this refer to the Gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God? Is Jesus saying don’t share with some people. There is a little instruction that appears three times in the Song of Solomon: “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” (Song 2:7, 3:5, 8:4) i.e. love is something that grows, that awakens so don’t push it (lover) until the other is ready. There is a suggestion that times change in the life of a person and we need to be sensitive to those changes. Thus, if you watch the life of a person over many years, you may see that, whereas they were totally hard against the Gospel in their earlier years, as they have got older and wiser, they have come to see their need and become more open to listen. When we realise this, we realise how important it is when we desire to be Jesus’ witnesses, that we learn to catch the leading of the Holy Spirit, for otherwise we will plough in and seek to sow seeds of faith on ground that is utterly hard and maybe even covered with thistles and thorns, things that utterly oppose our message. (see Mt 13:18-23)
There will be some people whose hearts are utterly hard and whatever God does, they will not turn. Pharaoh who opposed Moses was one such person. We might say, however, that even such people deserve to hear the challenge from God, but even with them it is imperative that we take the Lord’s leading at every step.
Jesus himself demonstrated this. With doubting Thomas Jesus gave him a second chance (Jn 20:24-28) because he knew him and knew given another chance, he would believe. With Peter who had utterly failed Jesus, he spoke words of renewal to him in a different place, later on, knowing Peter would rise again (see Jn 21). But then contrast this with Herod who had heard the message a number of times (Mk 6:20). Jesus, knowing he was closed, said not a word to him (Lk 23:9). When Jesus sent his disciples out, he instructed them not to waste their time on those who rejected their message (Mt 10:14-16). Later the apostle Paul was to adopt the same approach – share the word, and when it is rejected, move on! (Acts 13:45,46, also 18:5,6).
The same message comes through a number of times and in different ways in the New Testament: be discerning, sense who the Lord is sending you to, and if your word is rejected, move on, there are plenty of other people out them to speak to. How often, I wonder, do we get bogged down in evangelism in our churches because we target one group and despite rejection stay focused on them, while perhaps another group is far more open and we are missing them. Jesus’ teaching is clear: don’t judge people and write them off, but on the other hand be discerning and recognize people are at different stages of openness (and this does change with time) and so don’t keep on sharing the gospel when it is being rejected, but move on to the next person Jesus wants to put before you. Yes, maybe, one day, possibly after the passing of years, you may be able to go back to that prior person whose heart is now open. Work on the long-term, be discerning – like Jesus.