Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Rami: Response to Mike's 4/6 Post

I agree, Mike, that Matthew 7:6 is a proverb, but that only begs the question: who were the dogs and the swine. Nobody literally tosses holy objects to dogs or throws pearls to pigs, so Jesus doesn’t mean for us to take him literally. It seems to me that the “dogs” and “swine” are either Jews who reject Jesus and his teaching, or Gentiles in general. So much for “do not judge” (Matthew 7:1).

The first reading is on par with Jesus calling his rabbinic opponents “hypocrites” and “children of hell” (Matthew 23: 13-15). It might not be much of a stretch to imagine Jesus calling them dogs and pigs as well.

If we don’t want to stretch at all, we can look to Matthew 15:26 where Jesus uses similar language to refer to Canaanites. The Canaanite woman beseeches Jesus to heal her daughter, but Jesus at first refuses. His rationale is that he has come to teach the lost sheep of Israel, and that “it is not fair to takes the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26).

Here the “children” refer to the Jews, the food is the teaching of Jesus, and the dogs are the Canaanites.

The Canaanite woman understands Jesus is talking about her and her people, and says “even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s plates” (Matthew 15:27). Jesus is impressed with her faith and does heal her daughter. This does not spark a change of heart in Jesus, however, and he instructs his apostles to refrain from entering gentile cities (Matthew 10:5), again suggesting that Jesus’ mission is to the Jews and the Jews alone.

Jesus’ reference to “swine” is more problematic. He never calls anyone “swine” or uses pigs in a parable. He does cast demons into swine (Matthew 8:32), but I doubt Jesus is admonishing us from casting his teachings to the demon possessed. So “swine” escapes me.

In any case, I understand the need to clean this up a bit, but I don’t think Jesus was talking about the five percent of the people who take up ninety-five percent of a pastor’s time. Jesus wasn’t always polite, and I think we have to allow him his biases and judgments. Just imagine how much pressure that would take off those who try to live up to his example.

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