Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Letter to a college friend on Matthew 7:6

So, my good friend, you thought I forgot you.  How nice to see a college student not in a Bible class, reading the Scriptures and asking questions—does my heart good.  There is yet hope in the world. And you do choose one of the most taxing questions of our Lord to ponder on.  The big guns of Scripture study-the theologians equally wonder aloud on this one.
 Let us take a look: Matthew 7:6 "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
Scripture must always be interpreted in the light of Scripture and I truly believe that we use the lens of the Old Testament to understand the New.  With that in mind, I always like to see what our Elder Brothers in the Faith-the original People of the Book-the Jews have to say on a subject.
Here is an old Jewish proverb and we can see how Jesus incorporates it into his teaching on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7-"do not cast pearls before swine", nor deliver wisdom to him, who knows not the excellency of it; for wisdom is better than pearls, and he that does not seek after it, is worse than a swine.''  Jewish proverb
There are many references from the Old Testament, but let me pick my favorite for our discussion: Proverb 9:7“He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, and, he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself.”
This saying appears in the Didache 9:5 in a completely different context: “But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for the Lord has also spoken concerning this: ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs’ (Μὴ δῶτε τὸἅγιον τοῖς κυσί).”
I added that last line in the original Hebrew translated into Greek, for as a young man on campus, you never know when you need a proper response to place one squarely in the quiet-and quoting from the Holy Scriptures can hardly be called an insult, but it brings its own sting to the right conversation—you might want to have it printed on a tee and the Greeks will not get it but will not admit they do not know what it says.   :D  It can be your own private giggle on the matter. Who knows, you might sell some.
FYI- when talking to the young Evangelicals, and when encouraging young, fellow Catholics-the Didache is a short book that predates the Bible—written between- 90-110 AD.  It is the oldest Christian work we have, and you will note the use of the term with full Catholic meaning-Eucharist.  It is very short and you can Goggle and find it right on the Internet.
As I said earlier, some say this is the most difficult of Jesus’s statements.  I truly believe there are others more difficult.  The obvious meaning can easily be gleaned and that is there is time to speak up and there is a time to just remain quiet.  There are those we can do great good  by words of encouragement and even timely rebuke, and there are those that no amount of talking will profit ever and it will only draw you into endless quarrels, strife, or worse.   We learn as we go on those occasions.  Mostly, we learn by the many conversations that go array when we are young and we grow out of the need to argue or quarrel for argument sake.
So in this first and easier explanation of what Jesus is saying, it brings to mind a couple of my old Uncle Williams favorite sayings.   He was a simple cotton farmer. He would tell me often, “When you throw a rock at a pack of dogs, the one who yelps is the one that got hit.”  And, “Never try to teach a pig to sing—it frustrates you and annoys the pig”
Doubtless, as you grow in the wisdom of experiencing many peoples and places these expressions will come to mean more to you-perhaps as me, you will make them your very own and use them wisely.We come to know the power of our words, and we know when they affect someone else, and we know when it is time to stop offering them to certain folks and situations.
So the first and easiest lesson is one of discretion.  We know when to talk and when to remain silent.
And the second lesson is one of reverence. There are things that are Holy. And the holy must never be mixed with not just the common, but the unclean.  You grew up in a home very affectionate to animals and have had a wide range of pets over the years I have known you, but praised among them always seems to be the dogs you have had. That is a very Western concept.  In the East the dogs were wild, even as the most unclean animal was the pig.  The dogs were not domesticated and enjoyed, but ran in wild packs and were scavengers.  And the Jewish person was not only forbidden to eat from the pig, but to even touch them.
Jesus is clearly telling us that the things of our religion, the things that belong entirely to Him are holy and must not be mixed with the unholy.  Dogs and pigs in the East are the lowest of the animal world, scavengers of the streets. And in the Bible they reference such behavior among men.  Look at this one reference, you can find many: Revelation 22:15 “for without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”
We have a lesson of discretion and of reverence. But, I believe there is so much more here.  When you read the entire passage as one reading-the Sermon on the Mount-Matthew 5-6-7 you see it is truly a model of the life in Christ, an original catechism of Christian living. And as it is, it grows from the baby steps to the harder teachings-the easier things to do and be daily, and those harder things we struggle with, but in conquering come to maturity in our faith.
Many read the verses 1-6 as rules for judging others, and it is that, but so much more.  We must judge ourselves, judge our own acts, and not try to enforce our judgments for ourselves on everyone else.  It is so easy to make our word a law to everyone else.  We must not judge rashly.  In fact we should not be passing judgment on others.
It is so easy to make snap judgments, to judge too quickly, and only see the worst of people.  I outnumber you greatly in age- in fact at your age you must see me as quite old—and this is still a great struggle of mine.  I give you an example.  When I was your age-actually a Sophomore on campus, it dawned on me suddenly that the reason I could stay up so late and study such long hours was that I was drinking over 20 cups of coffee a day-without realizing it.  Twice a day friends would gather at the same spot to talk and have coffee, and I would get on a rant and the waitress would keep coming by and filling my cup with me paying no attention, until my friends started counting and reporting at the end of the day how many cups they saw me down. Knowing it was bad, even dangerous for my health-I stopped and suddenly would not drink any coffee. But, I also decided if 20 cups were not good for me, then no amount of coffee was good for anyone, and I would silently judge anyone I saw drinking coffee-the dopes, did they not know better? How could they do such a bad thing to themselves? I would terrorize any who would listen on the dangers of coffee and exhort them to quit. Sadly, I have done this over the years about a great many things.  Thankfully, for the most part I have outgrown this behavior, but still I catch myself doing it-it is a struggle.
I am glad to say that now, 2 cups of coffee each morning is one of the delights of my day.  I limit it to that and only that, and enjoy it immensely.  When it comes to advocates and reformers the rules I now live best by—first reform me.  It helps me work on the necessary self-improvement, conquering defects and sins in myself and hopefully living a godly example which inspires others to more Christ-like living.
It was easy of the Jews as the chosen people, and it is easy for us as Catholics today to have an elitist attitude—we are so much better than others attitude. The entire summation of the Sermon on the Mount is the context of the giving and loving Father.  In fact in every mass and many times in our daily rosaries we repeat the prayer given here to us by Jesus-Our Father….
So in context-yes there are some people who so devalue the sacred, and live such profane lives, that nothing we can say will admonish them or lead them to repentance.  But we are to live in such a way that the love, mercy, goodness, and kindness of our God shows and flows from our life in our everyday living. And even, though we should not engage in word such folk, in life and in deed we should offer a door of hope, by the very way we live.  Often we note that the worst example to the atheist or unbeliever is the actual Christian they have experienced. We are sent out into the world, we are to in every situation appear different-to be a light shining on the hill. And we are never to live lives of narrowness and selfishness-the “us four no more” attitude of many Christians.  Matthew is showing that everyone is highly valued in the Kingdom of God.  Each person is an image bearer of God; each person is created to be an image bearer of Jesus Christ.  No person is ever a means, but each person is an end—that end is to live with Jesus in His Father’s house forever-to know, to love, to serve God and to live with Him forever, world without end. Note that the last word-Matthew 28:19 is the command of Jesus to take his message to the world and to make disciples of everyone.
Have you ever known me to be able to just say yes or no. Giggles. Hopefully this gives you a bit of food for thought and does not overwhelm you to never ask another Bible question. But, when you get a chance have a comfortable seat in a quiet place-read out loud Matthew: 5-6-7 all in one sitting and imagine Jesus sitting with his best friends on a beautiful day, on the side of a hill talking to you.

Your friend,
23, April 2013
Feast of St. George

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