July 30th The Sermon on the Mount “Guidance from Jesus About Sharing, Praying, and Doing”

Dear Sisters and Brothers, 

Every now and then, preachers will come across a text that looks difficult, uncomfortable, or simply very different than other texts.  Today, we get a verse that may have been inserted into the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus said it, but they didn’t have a better place to insert it.  Not only that, but it is odd because it uses imagery like a parable, but reads like a simple command: 

Matthew 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” 

On the surface it talks about dogs and pigs.  You don’t give anything sacred or valuable to a dog because dogs chew on things, carry them away, and if it seems edible they will try to eat it.  Dogs don’t get much mention in the Gospels, but there were wild dogs and work dogs.  It seems that most pet dogs were very small breeds and larger dogs were mainly kept as pest control to catch rats and other vermin.  Pigs, on the other hand, were considered unclean animals by the Jews and were only kept by people of other religions.  There was little distinction made between domesticated pigs and the wild boars that could kill an unarmed human.  So, both dogs and pigs were seen as destructive and of limited intelligence. 

The obvious guess is that Jesus is talking about people who often behave like dogs and pigs.  He’s not speaking of a nation or ethnic group, but the rough and violent men (and a few women) who have little appreciation for anything of value.  Every society has some people who seem to think and talk with their fists and who are always ready for a brawl.  But if these people are the “dogs and pigs,” what sacred things and what pearls are we advised to keep from them? 

On other occasions in the Gospels, Jesus sends out the disciples and instructs them to share the good news with those who welcome them, but to simply move on where they are not welcomed or heard.  So, it is a good guess that Jesus is telling us to share the gospel with those who will listen, and that if we try to push the Gospel onto who won’t listen, our words will be mocked and we could be endangered by their anger.  People who do not seek righteousness, do not welcome words of wisdom.  Of course, they may eventually have a change of heart and seek wisdom later. 

The next verses speak about prayer and what is called, “the golden rule.” 

Matthew 7:7-9 

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”   “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. 

We are to ask God for things as a child asks a parent.  God is not Santa Claus, fulfilling wish lists, but he responds to his children’s needs.   Jesus does not seem to be saying that prayers will be fulfilled in specific ways, but that our desires will be somehow fulfilled or satiated.  Jesus points out that a parent would not respond to a request for bread by offering a snake, but it also seems reasonable to imagine that the parent would still provide bread even if the child asked for a snake.  Small children might have indeed asked for snakes because some of the poisonous snakes in Palestine were small and resembled colorful bracelets. The New Testament has multiple mentions of poisonous snakes like asps (also called vipers). 

God is therefore compared to a loving parent who gives us what we need, but not necessarily everything we might desire.  We are promised that when we ask, something good will be given to us.  We are told that when we seek, God will lead us to a discovery.  Also, God will lead us to open doors that lead to good places.  Eventually God will open for us the door to his kingdom. 

After comparing God to a human parent, Jesus says that God is a better parent that we can be, and that we should trust God to give us good gifts.  God provides daily bread, shelter, clothing, peace, love, faith, and hope. 

Jesus continues to say that we should treat people as we would like to be treated.  This assumes that we like ourselves and want to be treated with love and respect.  “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  Moral behavior (living by the law) is seen then as being mutually supportive and empowering.   Remember, when Jesus spoke of the commandments to love God with all your heart, soul and mind; and to love your neighbor as yourself.  This is the same idea.  “Love your neighbor as yourself” equals “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  In both cases, Jesus says that if you live by these words, that you are fulfilling the purpose of all the laws and teaching of the Old Testament. 

So, we call God “Father” (though he is better than any human parent), because he has the power and desire to lead us to salvation and all good things.  As children of God, we ask and it is given to us.  As sisters and brothers to each other, we are also called to love and support each other as we would desire to be loved and supported. 

A Question to Ponder:  “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” requires creativity.  It does not mean that you should offer a bottle of your favorite wine to a friend who avoids alcohol.  How do you find ways to treat people the way you like to be treated? 

Blessings, 

Pastor Rick