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ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.” (Matthew 7:13 NLT)
Here, in Matthew 7:6, we have yet another obscure saying from Jesus, who uses shocking language that often confuses and befuddles his audience. Its not the overall point of the statement, or what seems to be the overall point, that is shocking; rather, it is the “name calling” that is shocking. It is quite clear that Jesus isn’t talking about literal dogs or pigs but is using those terms to describe unholy people. Why would Jesus use such language? It’s not the only time that he did, either. In Matthew 15:27, Jesus used the word “dog” toward a Canaanite woman as well.
Why would Jesus call people pigs? There is absolutely no parallel to this anywhere else in the New Testament. What is up with the use of dogs and pigs? It seems that the answer, as is usually the case, is not all that clear. What is clear is that, in Matthew 7:6, Jesus is not using the term dogs in the same way as he was toward the Canaanite woman. In that passage, the woman was pleading for help and he told her that he had come for the people of Israel, not for Gentiles. He uses “children” to describe Israel and “dogs” to describe Gentiles, in order to make the point that one first feeds their children before they throw what is left to the ravenous dogs.
That brings me to another important point. When you hear dogs, try to take off your 21st century lenses and put on your 1st century glasses. In 1st century Judea, dogs were not cute, lovable pets. They were seen as wild, unruly, ravenous, and dangerous animals that were prowling the streets looking for whatever they could scavenge and sink their teeth into. Like Jesus’ allusion to wolves, his use of the word “dogs” was intended to evoke images of dangerous creatures that could charge you at any minute and turn you into their next meal.
Pigs, on the other hand, are considered to be unclean in Judaism. They are forbidden by Torah to be use for food, and must be avoided at all costs. To come in contact with a pig and/or to eat it would make one unclean, and there were even prohibitions against breeding pigs. What’s more, pigs are known for being in the mud, so to throw one’s pearls before swine is to throw one’s pearls into the mud.
Now that the basics have been laid out above, let’s try and make sense of what Jesus is saying here. The focus of Jesus’ message in verse 6 is holiness. Jesus is warning his disciples to keep in mind their own holiness. To be holy is to be set apart for God and God alone. It is so easy to sell out our beliefs and our values in order to fit in and go with the flow. Yet, the only guarantee we have is in God, who promised to be with us always. Yet the easy way, the most comfortable way, often leads to our own destruction. The easy path usually ends up betraying and imprisoning us, leading us to a dead end. The people and the things we end up compromising our values for, more often than not, turn on us like a pack of ravenous, wild dogs.
If we value ourselves and our relationship with God, it makes no sense to compromise those things anymore than it makes sense to take one’s pearls and throw them into the muddy pig pen. Rather, we should invest ourselves in what is valuable, and steer clear from the dogs and pigs. By steer clear, I do not mean shun, ignore, or judge. The last devotion is clear on where Jesus stands on judging. By steer clear, I mean to not put one’s hope in what is hopeless, and to not compromise one’s values and beliefs by settling for comfort and complacency.
We were created by God to be holy, to be set apart for God and for the Kingdom of God. Our call is to invest ourselves in God, as well as in God’s Kingdom. Jesus did that, and he did not settle for the easy road. I think it is safe to say that the road to calvary IS NEVER EASY, but it is the only way to the resurrection. It is the only way to eternal life. We must be willing to die to what is unholy in us, and we must be willing to let go of our foolish investment in what is unholy around us in order to take that journey with Christ.
What does that mean exactly? That means that each of us should be investing ourselves in seeking out Christ, and seeking out the purpose Christ has put before us. What is that purpose? To spread the love, the peace, the hope, the healing, and the wholeness of God. Our purpose is to stand up for justice and to live justly. Our purpose is to LOVE and to always show mercy. Our purpose is to walk humbly with God. All other paths lead to a dead end, but the road to calvary, the road to the cross, leads to the Kingdom of God and eternal life.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” – William Shakespeare PRAYER
Lord, help me see clear the distinction between the dead end highway and the road to Calvary. Amen.
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls.” (Matthew 13:45, NLT)
What do you value? What is it that you place all of your stock in? What is it that you would spare no expense for? What is your gleaming treasure? In today’s suggested reading, Jesus tells of a man who stumbles upon treasure hidden in a field that is so precious to him that he then sells everything he has in order to purchase that field and, by extension, purchase that treasure.
Now for those of us who really hear that parable and really give it some thought, we are left there stunned. I mean, why would someone stumble upon treasure hidden in a field and sell everything they own just to purchase the field with the treasure they stumbled on and could have had for nothing. That just doesn’t make any sense, does it? That seems like the most ridiculous and unlikely scenario ever told, does it not? Come on Jesus, surely you can do better than that?
Yet, the power in the parable is not in its plausibility but in its implausibility, for it is in the extreme and implausible actions of this seemingly lunatic man that we find the truthful point that Jesus is making. Sure, the man could have just taken the treasure and kept it for himself; however, that action would have been cheap and worthless and it would have rendered the treasure as such; rather, by selling everything and purchasing the land, and the treasure by necessity, makes that treasure the most valuable thing the man possesses, for he now owns nothing but the small plot of land and that treasure. The things we value the most will consume our very lives, and our actions will follow suit. Nothing else will stand a chance in competing for our devotion.
So, let me ask the question again. What do you value? The treasure above represents the Kingdom of God. Do you value the Kingdom of God…do you really, really value it? Do you value what God values? Do you value love, compassion, presence, respect, hospitality, service, sacrifice, grace, faith, faithfulness, justice, mercy, and social/economic/ecological/spiritual responsibility? Do you value the dignity and the divine spark within the all people you know and deal with. Do you treat everyone with equal respect and honor? Are you real in your values? Are your values real in you?
Plenty of people list their values and claim to live by them; however, values are not cheap like talk can be. The very word value denotes something of worth or cost, something to be treasured and sought after. When we claim to hold values that we don’t follow we show that those values are not real to us, we show that we are really seeking after Cubic Zirconia as opposed to the diamond in the rough. When we use values as a mask to hide the truth of who we are and/or the things we do, we are showing ourselves to be disingenuous and fake. We may fool some with that kind of an act, we may even fool ourselves, but we will never, ever fool God. God knows our hearts.
The Kingdom of Heaven is something of profound worth, something worth selling our very selves to purchase and to possess. The truth is that we can never, ever possess it; rather, it possesses us. Though we seek the Kingdom of Heaven, we discover that it searches us out. Though we may be Cubic Zirconia on the outside, God sees in us the diamond in the rough and chisels away the shells that surround us to reveal the inner gem. And once God does that we are transformed into a people who live by the very values that have claimed and shaped us. We become transformed to the point that the very values of the Kingdom of God become our own identity. We not only believe in them, we live by them. Not because we feel obligated, or because we’re putting up some sort of manufactured front, but because it’s who we are.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.” – Socrates
Lord, help me to not only proclaim my values, but to actually live into the values I proclaim. Amen.
“People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.” (Proverbs 10:9 NLT)
One of my favorite shows on television, as I have mentioned in the past, is the show “The Walking Dead”. Recently, I have been rewatching the series with my wife, as she has never seen it before. This is actually a great way to get more of “The Walking Dead” as I eagerly find myself in the advent of Season 5, which premiers on TMC in October. For those of you who have not watched the show, but might consider watching it, no worries…I will not put any SPOILERS in this, or at least not any that truly matter.
I have found that, on my second time through the series, I am beginning to pick up on things that I totally missed in my first time through. There’s all of the same elements such as zombies (obviously), character development, drama, suspense, humor (though depending on the season, it can be sparing), and action. But, I have noticed more within those elements that didn’t necessarily dawn on me originally. That is the beauty of a well-thought out, well-written script…there is lots of depth.
One of the things I have noticed is how the characters react to circumstances off of their core values. For Rick Grimes, who’s the lead character, his core values follow a more moral and ethical code. In his career, he was a deputy sheriff who took his job seriously and was a typically honest guy. He’s a guy who values human life, who believes in risking all to help others and believes in honesty.
As Rick and his group go through the trials and tribulations that come with living during the zombie apocalypse, his core values get put to the test. We often like to go through life thinking that there is a right and a wrong, a black and a white, an up and a down; however, in reality, there is often times much more gray and abstract areas, where the discernment process is muddled by the circumstances surrounding us. As Rick’s character develop, we see him go through periods where he is almost at war with himself because the circumstances seem to be calling him to do one thing, but his values are screaming at him to do something completely opposite to that.
In the end, because he is a values driven person, he ends up making decisions that are in line with his core values…even if his first instincts and decisions were against those values. There is a whole host of truths and parallels between this and our lives as Christians. If we are Christian our core values, by necessity, have to be in line with Christ’s virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Let’s also not forget the virtues of forgiveness, mercy, and compassion. And if our core values are in line with the fruit of the Spirit, we will live our lives accordingly.
So often we allow the world to define what our core values are and that is when we find ourselves compromising on things that go against what we claim to believe. Our challenge, as the church today, is to develop the spiritual discipline to mold our values around the virtues of Christ, around the fruit of the Spirit. If we do that, we will find that those core values will, more often than not, guide us in all that we do. What are your core values and do they line up with the virtues of Christ? These are questions we, as Christians, should be measuring ourselves on a daily basis. I pray that you make this a part of your spiritual journey.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” – George Washington
Lord, teach me your ways so that I may build the things you count as virtue into my core values. Let me ever walk in the footsteps of Christ. Amen.