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Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time. The reading is from Gospel of Matthew 7:6.

Pearls before Swine – Matthew 7:6

[Jesus said:]

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Some scholars feel that this saying may originally have derived from a Jewish Christian community who were opposed to preaching the gospel (what is holy, pearls) to Gentiles. In the light of

  • “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19)

that can hardly be Matthew’s meaning. He may have taken the saying as applying to a Christian dealing with an obstinately impenitent fellow Christian.

  • “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17).

This seems to be an echo of

  • Do not speak in the hearing of fools; they will despise the wisdom of your words. (Proverbs 23:9)

Dogs in the ancient world were wild and ran in packs. Pigs were unclean animals and something no Jew would ever touch, let alone eat. Hence “dogs” and “swine” were Jewish terms of contempt for Gentiles.

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine” was a Jewish saying that was deeply rooted in tradition.

Meat that had been sacrificed to God in the Temple could be eaten by humans, especially the Levites. But in no way was it ever thrown to dogs. If it was not eaten by humans it was to be burned. Hence holy and sanctified meat was not to be thrown to dogs.

In the Old Testament, pearls were an image for wisdom. If pearls were placed before pigs they would first sniff them, and since they were not food, simply trample them underfoot.

So, in this verse, Jesus is implying that some people are like dogs and so, sacred objects, sacred liturgy, sacred wisdom and participation in sacred things should not be easily offered to those who are incapable of appreciating them. Some people are like pigs who do not appreciate anything they cannot eat or use and simply trample under foot anything that does not please them or make sense to them.

This verse also seems to contradict what had just said before in Matthew 7:1-5. In those five verses Jesus attacks the judging and condemning of others, but in this verse he states that some people can be judged and found equal to dogs and swine.

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