Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dogs and Pigs – SOTM # 20

Jesus has a reputation in some circles for being “meek and mild.” Meek, at least, is one appropriate descriptor of Jesus. But “mild” he was not always.

Jesus was always a presence, wherever he was. And his pronouncements regularly challenged those to whom he spoke. He uncovered hypocrisy by identifying the motives of his hearers; showing that their righteousness consisted of a legalistic observance of the external aspects of the Law while, at the same time, avoiding its essential requirements. He frequently used strong language in describing those whose religion had become an empty shell, calling them whitewashed graves housing the remains of dead men.

Some heads must have turned when he said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.” Who are these dogs he speaks of? Who are the pigs? Jews of Jesus time were despised by their Roman overlords and they returned the hatred in kind, referring to the Romans as Gentile dogs. Pigs were an unclean animal to Jews as well, providing a ready epithet applied, as well to Gentiles. Were the Romans, and other Gentiles living among the Jews, those of whom Jesus spoke?

And what are the “pearls” that should not be cast before swine; what are the sacred things that should not be given to dogs? Were the Jews in the habit of distributing prayer shawls to Roman soldiers? Did they regularly operate vacation bible schools aimed at converting Gentile children? Was Jesus opposed to friendly interaction between Romans and Jews?

These are not easy questions to answer. Certainly the language Jesus chose to use would have turned the thoughts of many of his hearers immediately to Gentiles and to the Romans in particular. But there are enough examples given in the Gospels to let us know that Jesus himself did not exclude either Gentiles (the Syro-Phonecian woman whose daughter was possessed by an evil spirit) or the Romans (the Centurion whose servant was dying). One might argue that the few times we see Jesus interacting with Gentiles are merely exceptions and that in general he opposed fraternizing with Gentiles. That argument is hard to maintain, though, in the face of the events that followed the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The church of the first century A.D. quickly embraced Gentile believers and, in a few decades was more Gentile than Jewish. So Jesus must have had some group, other than Gentiles, in mind when he spoke of “dogs” and “pigs.”

I believe he was using the stereotypical image of dogs and pigs as creatures, more concerned with consumption of that which filled their bellies than with an appreciation of culture or sacred things, to indicate the kind of humans whose god is their belly, who as readily bite the hand giving them food as eat the food itself. Certainly Romans, and other Gentiles, fit that description, but so did many Jews, not the least, the ever-present Pharisees. Likely, a large part of the crowd listening to his sermon fit that description. They would prove his words true a few months later when they turned on him and cried out for his crucifixion.

It was because Jesus knew the hearts of men that so much of his preaching consisted of parables that those, truly hungry for spiritual food, could comprehend, but which the dogs and pigs would merely sniff at and turned away in disgust. He came, by his own testimony, “so the world, through him, might be saved.” But even the Son of God could not make disciples of dogs and pigs, so those of us who bear his message to the world should not assume that we can.

Time is precious; it should not be wasted on futile causes. We are called at all times to be witnesses of the Gospel, living our lives in ways that show us to be citizen of the kingdom of heaven. On many occasions we will be called, additionally, to give witness, declaring that the kingdom of heaven has come. But there are also times to withhold our sacred testimony; to not cast our pearls before pigs and dogs, because the dogs and pigs are too blind to comprehend their value.

Then, in those times, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth (in the hearts and minds of dogs and pigs), as it is in heaven.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave a comment. Comments are moderated and will appear as soon as possible after posting. Follow these steps:
1. Write your comment
2. Select a profile
(Anonymous or Name works best)
3. Select Preview
4. Sign word verification
5. Select Post Comment