Pigs and pearls and us
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 7:6
Today’s reading from the Sermon on the Mount offers some tough talk from Jesus. His colorful language suggests that the lives of disciples unfold in the presence of opposition, resistance or indifference, perpetrated by folks compared to dogs and swine. Have you ever felt like that is what you’re up against?
Jesus makes the point that as the disciples live in the world, as they offer what they have as followers of Jesus, as they share what they consider to be good news, they may not be well received, to put it mildly. It echoes what Jesus says when he sends out his disciples (see above). He tells them to extend peace to communities they visit. If their word of peace is accepted, awesome! If that peace is not accepted, move on. Shake the dust off of feet. Don’t try to compel agreement. Ah, if only the church throughout its history had bought this idea.
So today we read about pearls before swine. The pigs simply don’t recognize the value of the pearls. Holy gifts to dogs. All the dogs know how to do is fight.
What does this say to us this morning? We’re living in rancorous days. I don’t remember a time when people would say I can’t go on vacation or have dinner with family or friends because they watch a different cable news show or embrace a different candidate. Courtesy of television and social media, we retreat to communities of affirmation and agreement. We navigate parallel universes, with completely different perspectives, and facts which we pick and choose. Given all that, how do we move forward?
First, Jesus tells his disciples (us) that they (we) are not always going to be well received, as much as we people-pleasing clergy would like for that to happen. So let that go.
Second, Jesus suggests that we may not find ourselves able to change other people’s minds. Beyond that, it suggests that that is not our job. We are not the ones who can cause folks to value what they don’t value. Changing people’s hearts and minds is God’s work, not our own. Posting on social media may be fun, even delicious, but all we are called to do is be faithful. We can indeed be instruments in transformation, but when that happens, it most likely happens through the witness of our lives and not our compelling arguments.
Third, for me it’s a call to humility accompanied by trust that God is in charge. We are not in charge, and we are especially not in charge of what other people think. We have a gracious plenty tending to our own thought processes, our own opinions.
Which makes me wonder about Jesus’ instructions. I’ve always read it as faithful disciples meeting faithless pagans. I’ve always placed myself in the faithful disciple camp. But as I thought about this, I wondered how I’m like those swine, not even noticing pearls set in front of me. I wondered how I might be like those dogs, eager to tear somebody else apart, even if only in my imagination. Do I really value the pearls of God’s grace set before me, the limitless forgiveness, the beauty of nature? Do I growl too much? How might the change come to me, or am I stuck in the pig sty of my own focus, my own agenda, my own resentment that keeps me from recognizing pearls?
It may be helpful to recall a time when pearls were presented to you and you changed your mind. I’m old enough to recall when women were first ordained to the priesthood in the church. I remember conversations with people who thought that the ordination of women was a bad idea. But something amazing happened. People changed their minds, not because they were argued into it, but because they began to see women function in the role of priest. I remember someone saying: “I’m not in favor of women’s ordination, but our parish priest (a woman) is awesome. I’m so glad she is leading our church. I’m so glad she was ordained.”
Maybe that person could have been argued into acceptance of what I thought was a grand idea. But what changed that person’s mind was a relationship, witnessing a faithful and loving ministry. Maybe that’s all we can do, all we are called to do. Be faithful in our witness to good news. Share the grace we’ve come to know. And let the Holy Spirit handle the rest.
I so look forward to the day when I will be able to do that.