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’s Gospel chapter 7 verse 6)
Can Jesus really have said something like this? Biblical scholars are divided on this one. I wonder if there’s a clue to the puzzle in chapter 15 verses 21 – 28 of Matthew’s Gospel: a story often quoted as the only example in the New Testament of Jesus changing his mind. He is being pestered by a Canaanite woman with a sick daughter and his response is, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Us Christians easily forget that Jesus was a Jew, steeped in what we call the Old Testament with its wonderful visions of the destiny of Israel as a focus for universal salvation. I can understand how Jesus might have wanted to confine himself to his fellow Jews as the best way to achieve his mission.
Surely these two stories relate to the same encounter? In the second one in chapter 15 there’s a subtle difference in the Greek word for dog. Here it might be translated ‘puppy’ which gives the story a different feel. In chapter 7 the story is followed by ‘Ask, and it will be given you….’ and that is exactly the point of the story in chapter 15. The woman persists in asking in spite of the off-putting response she gets at first from Jesus.
Now, I know from my limited personal experience that prayer is answered, sometimes in extraordinary ways, but the experience is by no means straightforward and I feel uneasy when this mysterious process becomes the primary focus of religious events from Lourdes pilgrimages to Pentecostal healing services. I’ll need a separate posting to explore this one.
Returning briefly to the dogs in verse 6, I feel on much firmer ground with the Buddhist maxim – ‘when the pupil is ready the teacher appears’. It’s no good teaching, or offering good news about Life with a capital L when people are not ready for it. There are appropriate moments and discerning them, waiting with alert patience for them, is vital otherwise the pearls will get lost in the mud.