Wednesday, January 4, 2012

No Dogs in the Kingdom!

Reading: Matthew 7  
Matthew 7 is full of verses that are well known and often used. I've heard it said that Matthew 7:1 is rivaling John 3:16 as one of the most well known verses in the Bible. I'm not sure if that is good, given that it often seems to be used in a way unintended. Additionally, verses calling us to ask, seek, knock...enter through the narrow gate... recognize them by their fruit...and to build our house on the rock, all come from this chapter. However, there is one verse in this chapter which is possibly the most misunderstood verse in scripture. (Okay, I made that statistic up, but if I am correct in what follows, it may well be an accurate statistic.)
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.” (Matthew 7:6)
In my limited experience, I have never heard this verse used by someone in a way that exemplified any of the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount. Usually it is used in a way that, contextually we would have to assume it was from elsewhere. Something along the order of, “Well, I'm not going to try to help them anymore because I am casting pearls before swine.” Given the context of the sermon on the mount, it is difficult to square this or similar understandings with what surrounds the verse.
Blessed are the poor in spirit...If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles...Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?...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. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 5:3, 41, 44-46; 7:1-3)
One commentary reads, “This enigmatic sayings stands alone...”. Another, “This verse appears to be a detached independent saying...unrelated to the preceding or following context.” Some do contextualize it and see it as a balancing statement to “do not judge”. Maybe something like, “Do not judge, however don't get too extreme, occasionally it is fine to think of them as pigs or dogs and ignore them.” (Pigs and dogs were very derogative terms in Judaism.) Is that balancing, or contradicting? Some say it is talking about not preaching to people who will not receive it or you will be persecuted. However, in light of “blessed are those who are persecuted” that hardly fits.
I have read dozens of treatments of this verse in commentaries, and while many are intriguing, I confess, I wasn't satisfied. And, the problem may be mine.1 I just don't buy the line of argument that assumes somebody (like Matthew in this case) just wanted to get this verse in, so he threw it in here... with little or no reasonable connection to its surroundings. So that rather than actually having, “The Sermon on the Mount,” we have, “Random Sayings of Jesus Collected.” I generally assume that if I don't see how something fits its context, the problem is mine, not the author's (or Author's).
The following outline of Matthew 7:1-6 may help bring clarity to Matthew 7:6 in its context.
A Do not judge,
B or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
C 3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  5You 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.
A1 6Do not, “give dogs what is sacred”; do not, “throw your pearls to pigs.”
B1 If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.
Don't let the A, A1, B, B1, confuse you. They are merely there to show corresponding parts. For instance, “Do not judge” corresponds to, “Do not, 'give dogs what is sacred', and, “do not 'throw your pearls to pigs.'” “Judge” is replaced by, “give dogs what is sacred”, and, “throw your pearls to pigs.” I am suggesting that “giving dogs what is sacred,” or “throwing pearls to pigs” would have been common phrases or attitudes that Jesus would have considered to be judgments, and Jesus is telling us to stop with that kind of non-sense. In other words, don't try to correct with Pharisaical self-righteous wisdom for sinners, seeing yourself as the one with sacred pearls, or holy meat to be offered, and the poor fools you are talking to as dogs and pigs.
Now on to the “B and B1”. If you do, the measure you use will be measured to you: they will trample your pearls underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces. That isn't living in the kingdom of heaven. That isn't the love and peace this sermon speaks of, rather that is the results of judging others rather than loving them. Instead, we are called to see the plank in our own eye rather than the speck in our neighbor's eye. If anyone is a pig or a dog, it is me. And if I am the pig or the dog, then you are one I consider more highly than myself (Philippians 2:3). Applied ths way I may well discover that there are no dogs or pigs in the Kingdom. (This could really change how we view the people we live with or go to church with!)
I may or may not have it right on the understanding of that verse, but at least I offer something that is completely consistent with the context of the Sermon on the Mount. And if we apply it and live it this way, by God's grace we will be more conformed into the image of Christ.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

1Subsequent to presenting this understanding in our church, one of our members mentioned a commentary on Matthew by Daniel Doriani that presents a similar understanding. I don't yet possess that one, but undoubtedly will.