Lent, Day 27 — Of Pearls and Swine

Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
Of Pearls and Swine

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. 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. (Matthew 7:5-6, NRSV)

  1. It’s important to connect this famous phrase “pearls before swine,” to what comes immediately before: a command not to judge.
  2. This is the second of two analogies. The first was about taking a speck out of someone else’s eye, and the second is about giving away something valuable. Both are ways we try to help! It’s like Jesus anticipates our objection: “I’m not judging! I’m just trying to help!”
  3. Trying to correct a neighbor may be like taking a splinter out of their eye: You may have good intentions, but your own issues make you unsuitable as a surgeon. On the other hand, your neighbor might not be a willing patient! Maybe you do have something good to offer, but they won’t be able to appreciate it. You may think you’re offering something holy and good, but it’s not likely to be received well, and you’ll only bring pain on yourself.
  4. So even if you don’t see yourself as judging, even if you see yourself as helping, there are two problems: you aren’t qualified, and people don’t want your help.
  5. Jesus has said not to judge, and not to call people fools. But he calls people dogs and swine, both of which were fightin’ words in the ancient world. Is this another case of “Do as I say, not as I do?” Or is it okay for him because he’s Jesus? Neither: he’s getting into our heads.
  6. I’ve seen a quote floating around the internet: “Jesus never gave up on anybody.” Whoever said this has never read the Bible, especially Matthew 10:13, or all of chapter 23. In the first case, Jesus tells his disciples not to waste their time on people who will not welcome their message, and to “shake off the dust” from their feet when they leave town. In Matthew 23, he tells religious leaders that they are worthless, “Tying up heavy burdens for others and not lifting a finger to move them.”
  7. While theologically, I do not believe that God gives up on people, I am not God. And while everyone is worthy of God’s infinite love, not everyone is worthy of my finite time, energy, or attention. Jesus knows this, and tells us to behave accordingly.
  8. Since I am called to work with people who feel alienated from church, these verses mean a lot to me, because I face criticism and obstacles both from church folks and from non-church folks. Sometimes I need to leave people alone. And sometimes I wish religious people would consider me swine and leave me alone!
  9. The Bhagavad Gita says, “It is better to strive in one’s own dharma [duty, truth, or path] than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity” (3:35)