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Pigs and Dogs: What is Jesus Talking About?

What’s with the pigs and the dogs? Taken by itself, Matt. 7:6 is a weird thing to say:

“Don’t give holy things to dogs, don’t throw your pearls to pigs, lest they trample them under their feet and, turning, tear you to pieces” (author’s translation).

If this is a stand-alone verse, then we just have to deal with that, but it would be much better if we had some context. It clearly doesn’t go with what comes after it. Matthew 7:7 introduces a whole new vocabulary, cadence (“ask, seek, knock”), and theme that clearly carries through the rest of that paragraph (7:7-11).

What comes before is a lot more promising.

In a previous article, we noted that Matthew 7:1 is a summary sentence opening a new discussion–a discussion that clearly carries right up to the verse we’re trying to puzzle out. Notice the structure of Matt. 7:1: there’s a negative imperative (“don’t do something;” specifically, “don’t judge”) followed by a warning of bad stuff that will happen if you do (“or you will be judged”).

Matthew 7:6 follows the exact same pattern: negative imperative (“don’t give/throw”) followed by bad stuff (“lest they tear you to pieces”). These look like bookends to the discussion on judgmentalism.

In fact, 7:6 is probably just a more colorful version of 7:1.

Jesus has already fleshed out “judging” as getting up in other peoples’ business. When you say, “Here, let me get the speck out of your eye,” judging and giving unwanted advice can be two ways of looking at the same thing. And people have pretty much always taken “pearls before swine” as advice that falls on deaf ears.

Think about it. What happened the last time you gave someone unwanted, corrective advice? How did that go? Does “lest they turn and tear you to pieces” sound about right?

It’s interesting that, in 7:6, you’re giving holy things, pearls. This implies that your assessment of your brother (that speck in his eye) is right! There is something wrong with him. But 7:6 also points out the utter futility of this corrective advice.

Dogs are unclean animals. In Leviticus, holy things and unclean things do not mix. (When they do, usually someone dies.) And what’s an unclean animal like a pig going to do with a pearl? Seriously, what were you thinking?

Yes, the question is put to you for offering the advice, not to them for rejecting it. Remember, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is completely unconcerned with “them.” He is laser focused on you. What is going on in your heart?

Comparing the judged to dogs and pigs is not meant to illicit contempt for them (that pretty clearly goes against the spirit of the whole discussion). The point is the obviousness of their unreceptivity. If it’s obvious, why didn’t you see it? Why couldn’t you tell that your brother was in no state to receive what you had to offer?

Because, as Jesus’ previous illustration strongly implies, sin is blinding.

You overlooked the fact that your brother is not in a place to be corrected because you, yourself, are not seeing straight. No one is perfect. (Do I really need to cite a verse for that?) We all have sin in our lives. And facing that sin is painful, possibly terrifying, possibly overwhelming.

As human beings, we have a remarkable capacity to avoid seeing things we don’t want to see, of avoiding conclusions (especially about ourselves) that we don’t want to reach. The trick is to focus your attention on something else. Like, say, whatever is wrong with that guy.

This is not an active choice. It is a failure to choose. Letting our subconscious re-direct our attention to something less personally painful is automatic.

Facing and working through the darkness we find in ourselves requires a deliberate choice.

Absent that choice, our mind splits, in a way. A lot of our beliefs (about ourselves, particularly) get stuffed away somewhere that is not consciously accessible. And beliefs that get sublimated that way become nasty little gremlins, wreaking havoc on our daily functioning.

A time-honored result is that we can end up projecting our own faults (rightly or wrongly) onto others and railing against the exact things we struggle with (Rom. 2:1, 21-24). The measure we use is the one used against us (Matt. 7:2).

This is the hypocrisy so often trumpeted by the non-believing world, and which Jesus himself points out (7:5). As one pornstar put it, the guys who protested her industry most vehemently on Sunday were the guys she danced for in the clubs the coming Friday.

Sin becomes a vicious cycle.

We don’t want to face our sin, which makes us powerless to overcome it. Not only does it gain power over us, but it lashes out at others. This judgmentalism, then, becomes an additional sin that has an even greater ability to blind us–always keeping our focus on someone else. As Dallas Willard put it, how does Jesus know that the judger has a plank in his eye? Because judgmentalism is the plank.

Judgmentalism springs from a failure to choose to face our own faults. The tragedy is that Christianity, at its very core, provides exactly the resources we need to acknowledge our sin.

Look into your heart. What do you find there? Is there fear of what you might find, of how bad it might be? We serve a God of infinite love.

Is there pain–guilt because we know we are complicit in our own brokenness? Jesus offers the healing power of forgiveness.

Is there despair at the power of sin in your life? It is nothing to the power of the cross.

A judgmental attitude betrays a heart that fails to grasp the love of God and the power of the cross. You are known and loved–to the deepest depths of the brokenness of your soul. And all the darkness of your heart has been nailed to the cross–dead and lifeless.

Trust God. Stop worrying about where others stand–what specks they have in their eye, what unreceptivity they have in their lives–and look to your heart. Trust Jesus to do the surgery he needs to do to bring you to greater wholeness.

Then maybe, just maybe, you and your brother will start seeing clearly enough that you can actually help each other.
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