Skip to comments.Two Hard Sayings of the Lord that Offend Modern Notions
Posted on 08/21/2013 2:18:37 PM PDT by NYer
The Gospel of Matthew features two hard sayings, or expressions, of the Lord. They are “hard” because they offend against modern notions. And since they are difficult for us “moderns” to hear and we are easily taken aback by their abrupt and coarse quality. Here is the “offending” verse:
Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Mt 7:6)
The modern notion offended against here is: You’re not supposed to call people ugly names. This notion, though not wrong in itself, has become a rather excessively applied norm in our times and also misses the point in terms of this passage.
We live in what I would call “dainty” times where many people are easily offended. These are thin-skinned times of fragile egos where the merest slight often brings threats of lawsuits. Even observations intended as humor are excoriated and hurtful and out of line. And so, horror of horrors, here we have Jesus calling certain (unnamed) people “dogs” and “swine!” Explanations are demanded in times like these of such horrible words coming forth from the sinless Lord Jesus. Older commentaries felt less need to comment extensively on these verses.
Sophistication is needed – One of the reasons we are so easily offended in our modern age is, frankly, that we lack sophistication. We seem to have lost understanding, to a great extent, of simile and metaphor.
A simile is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things and normally includes words such as “like” and “as.” For example: “He is as swift and strong as a horse!” Similes have the two ideas remain distinct in spite of their similarities.
Metaphors compare two things without using “like” or “as”. For example, “He’s a real work-horse!” Metaphors are usually more forceful than similes since the distinction intended between the compared things is often ambiguous. For example if I were to observe someone doing something mean or cruel I might say, “Wow, what a dog!” Now the expression does not mean I have gone blind and think that this person is actually a dog. I mean that he is manifesting qualities of a (wild or mean) dog. However, just how distinct he is from an actual dog is left open to interpretation. But for the record, I am NOT saying he is a dog.
The point here is that some sophistication and appreciation for the nuances of language and the art of comparison are necessary as we negotiate life’s road. In modern times we seem to have lost some of this and so, are easily offended.
This does not mean that no one ever intends offense, it only means that more is necessary than simply hearing everything in a crudely literal way. The usual modern person in my example would object, “Hey, he called me a dog!” No, what he means is that you have taken on some of the qualities of a wild dog. Now to what extent he means you are like a dog is intentionally ambiguous, and an invitation for you to think of how you may have surrendered some of your humanity and become more like baser creatures.
Examining what the Lord says – This sort of sophistication is necessary as we examine these two of the Lord’s “offensive” sayings here. Let’s look at them both in terms of their historical root and then to what is being taught.
1. First of all let’s be clear that the Jewish people were not indicating positive traits when they used the term dog or swine to refer to someone. Dogs in the ancient world were not the pets of today. They were wild, and ran in packs. Pigs were unclean animals and something no Jew would ever touch, let alone eat. These are strong metaphors indicating significant aversion to some aspect of the person.
2. Do not give what is holy to dogs- This was a Jewish saying that was rooted in tradition. Some of the meat that had been sacrificed to God in the Temple was returned to the family to be eaten by them, and some was retained to be eaten by the Levites. But in no way was this meat that had been consecrated to God ever to be thrown to dogs or other animals to eat. If, for some reason, it was not eaten by humans it was to be burned. Hence holy and sanctified meat was not to be thrown to dogs because it was holy.
3. [Do not] throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot – Pearls were an image for wisdom in the Old Testament. Now the point here is that pigs value nothing they cannot eat. Pearls could not be eaten, thus if they were placed before pigs they would sniff them, determine they were not food, and simply trample them underfoot. The pigs have no appreciation of pearls.
4. So what is being said? Sacred matters, sacred things, wisdom, and participation in sacred things should not be easily offered to those who are incapable of appreciating them. There are those who despise what we call holy. There is little that can be done in such cases except deny them the pleasure of tearing apart holy things or trampling them underfoot.
Jesus is saying that some people are like dogs who tear apart sacred things and have no concept of their holiness. Some people are like pigs who do not appreciate anything they cannot eat or use for their pleasure. They simply trample under foot anything that does not please them or make sense to them, in the same way that pigs would trample pearls underfoot or dogs irreverently tear apart blessed food dedicated to God.
Further, there are some who, though not hostile, are ignorant of sacred realities. They do not perhaps intend offense but it is necessary that they should be taught, and then admitted to sacred rites or further instructed in deeper mysteries. Children, for example in the Western Rite, are not given the Holy Eucharist until they can distinguish it from ordinary food. Further, it is a necessary truth that some more advanced spiritual notions such as contemplative prayer are not often appreciated by those who have not been led there in stages.
The Lord is thus indicating that holy things are to be shared in appropriate ways with those who are able to appreciate them. It is usually necessary to be led into the Holy and just walk in unprepared or unappreciative.
In the ancient Church there was something known as the disciplina arcani (discipline of the secret) wherein only the baptized and confirmed would be admitted to the sacred mysteries of the Liturgy. Given the holiness with which the early Christians regarded the Mass, they exactly observed what the Lord is saying here. Careful instruction and gradual introduction to sacred truth was necessary before entering something so holy as the Sacred Liturgy. Even the unintentional trampling underfoot of sacred realities through simple ignorance was to be strictly avoided. To be sure, these were difficult times for the Church and persecution was common. Hence the Lord’s warning to protect the holy things was not just that they might be trampled underfoot but also that those who were like unto wild dogs and swine might not turn and tear you to pieces (Mat 7:6).
In the centuries after the Edict of Constantine the disciplina arcani gradually dissipated. Some remnants of it revived in the modern RCIA wherein the Catechumens are dismissed halfway through the Mass to reflect more fully on the Liturgy of the Word. And yet we have much to relearn in modern times about a deep reverence for the Sacred Liturgy. While it would not seem opportune to lock our Church doors as in ancient times, but preserving good order in the Liturgy, encouraging reverence, proper dress, and instilling deeper knowledge of the true meaning of the Sacred Liturgy are all important ways to ensure that we do not trample underfoot what is sacred.
Regarding this video, the Text says, Sinner please don’t let this harvest pass, and die and lose your soul at last. One of the things I like about the old spirituals was that they still used older biblical language that had fallen out of fashion. For example calling people “Sinner.” You don’t hear preachers speak like this much today in these hypersensitive times. But the truth is we are all sinners.
The Gospel of Matthew was composed between 70 and 110, with most scholars preferring the period 80-90. The anonymous author was probably a highly educated Jew, intimately familiar with the technical aspects of Jewish law, and the disciple Matthew was probably honored within his circle as the source of much of the tradition. The author wrote in Aramaic, for a Jewish audience and stresses the continuing relevance of the Jewish law. Unlike Mark he never bothers to explain Jewish customs. Unlike Luke, who traces Jesus's ancestry back to Adam, father of the human race, Matthew traces it only to Abraham, father of the Jews. The content suggests that this community was stricter than the others in its attitude to keeping the Jewish law, holding that they must exceed the scribes and the Pharisees in "righteousness" (adherence to Jewish law); and to a "church" (ecclesia), an organised group with rules for keeping order.
There is much more and I would encourage you to delve deeper. You'll be amazed at what you learn.
Great article. It’s seems so common that I’m hearing churches say “we need to reach out to the gay community.”
Yes, it’d be great if they were to accept the gospel, but typically those who say this tend to mean that we should allow them to be active members of the church partaking in communion, while they sit in the pews holding hands with their partner.
Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
Thank you. I’ve often pondered these words. The sense expounded here is in accord with what I gathered, but it is not readily apparent. The temptation is to take every verse of Sacred Scripture and apply it to one’s daily life immediately, without regard to liturgical context [speaking from a general protestant perspective]. So, if one were to apply it to ones personal conduct in the world, he may interpret these words as intimating one is not speak about matters concerning the Church while in the midst of a godless rabble. But this would be totally counter to the clear and certain fact that the Christ is found particularly sitting down and eating with sinners. He most certainly is not withholding speech concerning higher things while in their presence.
I very much enjoy and appreciate your posts, NYer.
You are doing a great thing-—educating people....There is so much Wisdom in the Bible. Think of all the greatest “thinkers” in the history of Western Civ and the Bible was their basic/first foundational book. It amazes me.
There is such Common Sense in the Bible, too.
Two essential things missing in dialogue/Laws/Conversations/schools: Common Sense and Wisdom.
(The Bible could fix that like it did for thousands of years in West. Civ)
It’s a nicely worded, relevant article.
You hit on a great point-—it is the fraud of “Progressivism” and Leftists. They want you to think we are moving forward to something greater, better-—when we are regressing back into paganism/occultism/totalitarianism.
Thank you very much for your post and ping! This project began one Sunday when I asked a parishioner if he would be willing to serve as lector. He agreed .. with a set of conditions: he wanted advance notice (no problem) and a printed copy of the reading. I showed him that week's bulletin which listed the readings, not only for Sunday, but also for each day of the week + the one for the following Sunday. I then suggested that all he had to do was look it up in his Bible. He responded by saying he did not have a Bible.
This did not come as a big surprise. I know many Catholics who have Bibles but never read them and those who, like this gentleman, do not own one. Since one of my parish roles is to produce each week's 8 page bulletin - and - since we are still in the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict, I decided it was time to introduce the parishioners to the source of the readings they hear each day at Mass.
It has become a labor of love. In the process of writing a weekly column on the Bible, I have to adapt it to people who have never given it much thought and make it exciting. I intersperse graphic images into the text to grab attention. So far, not one parishioner has commented on the series of articles. Rather than allow this to lead to discouragement, I have grown in my own appreciation of Scripture and gratitude to our Lord for the gift of this ministry.
"Perfectly put in very few words. Excellent!"
if he thinks thats a hard teaching, he should read Job
You might find this article interesting in light of your comment.
Hey, just between us, Matthew wrote Matthew. But don't let the title fool you. It didn't the early fathers.
There is no remembrance of the men of old; nor of those to come will there be any remembrance among those who come after them. Ecc 1:11.
I was open to all and loved people
I found out that not all I welcomed were worth welcoming
Now I am much more careful
Wow! Great article. I’ve already shared it.
Also now there is great Bible websites and apps out there to help out.
I thought you might like it. Really clarifies the issue.
Wonderful post Nyer, thanks for posting.