Today I invite you to study the verse, “Do not give to dogs what is holy; Do not cast your pearls before swine.” (Mathew 7:6)
This verse is a portion of the Sermon on the Mount and to understand its meaning, we have to understand its context and placement within the sermon rather than looking at the verse alone.
One of my Scripture professors encouraged us in seeking a meaning of a particular scriptural text to take the “sandwich” approach. See the text you are working with as the filling, and the meaning you come up with must sit comfortably with the text that went before it and the text that immediately follows. That is the bread on top and the bread underneath the filling. Following this approach cuts out many private interpretations of texts. Too often we use scripture out of context to score a personal point.
The text mentioning dogs and swine is a portion of the great sermon on the Mount. The text immediately before this one has Christ finishing instructing the crowd on judgment and reproof: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Mathew 7: 1 – 2), and “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Then in verse 6, Christ tempers these admonitions and shows us the difference between “judgment” and “discernment.”
And then following is the text in verse 7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Verse 8: “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
The analogy of the dogs actually comes from Proverbs: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). Swine are also described in this way, as illustrated by Peter: “Of them (false prophets and teachers) the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud’.” (2 Peter 2:22).
The dogs and swine here are representative of those who would ridicule, reject, and blaspheme the gospel once it has been given to them. We are not to put forth the gospel of Jesus Christ in the direction of someone who has no other purpose than to trample it and return to his own evil ways. We identify such people through discernment, which is given in some measure to all Christians. (1 Corinthians 2:15 – 16)
Disciples who are not aware of their own sinfulness may not pass judgment upon others.
The worst possible judge is a sincere person who sees nothing the matter with him or herself. Only disciples aware of their own shortcomings and honestly attempting to overcome them are qualified to point out the failure of others. (Mt.7;1 - 5)
Do not give to dogs what is holy and cast pearls to the swine. Matthew is aware that in some cases judgment must be pronounced.
He therefore adds advice against indiscriminate acceptance of all people as worthy of the gift of the Gospel. (7;6) Some plainly do not qualify for admission and others should not be retained in the community. The church cannot abandon objective standards as if nothing were right or wrong in itself. The community must cling to the truth it has received and this means refusing to explain or discuss it with those who will not take it seriously. To Herod, for example, Our Lord refused to speak a word, when questioned by him.
For Mathew, the problem of discerning when and how to pass judgment is so delicate and sensitive that only a community that prays will be capable of it. For this reason, he places here Jesus’ instruction on the need for constant prayer. (Mt.7;7 – 11)
Taking the whole of this passage Mt.7: 1 – 12 these sayings are dealing with relations among members of the community. The first two vs. 1 -6 have to do with passing of judgment on others; the third vs. 7 – 11 reminds the community that it is only through constant and confident prayer that it will receive the guidance it needs in its affairs.
The final saying, vs.12 gives the Golden Rule which is the measure of every relationship, “Do to others whatever you would that others do to you.”
Over recent weeks there has been a good deal of judging going on in the country. In judging, appeals have been made to various scripture passages. A little time first spent on prayerful discernment may help us to discover the truth and make for much smoother relationships in the community.
Bishop Paul Donoghue,