Having just referred to St. Aug’s comment re: “men’s souls hang on your gifts” and quoting the prophet Isaiah about pouring out “that with which you sustain your own life to feed the hungry and to satisfy the need of the afflicted”, Jesus’ somewhat uncomplimentary metaphor warning us to “not cast your pearls before swine” seems, at first glance, a bit harsh to our 21st century sensibilities. No doubt, it was to 1st century ears also, particularly considering the religious and social context of the day.
Here’s how I unpack it—
A short take: Everyone has influence, period. Everyone has a “hidden congregation” that’s watching and learning. They need what you have to give, which makes each of us responsible for finding out just what that is, and start giving it, even if we don’t know who “they” are yet. However, pearls take many years to form, and are an organic result of an irritation inside the shell. Therefore, they are more fragile than, say, a diamond. Which means you have gifts (sometimes born of inconvenience, irritation, or downright pain) that you might not even be aware of yet, experiences that others need, talents gained, hardships overcome. Jesus considers these things precious when placed under His care, and He knows who needs them.
Secondly, since they are precious (and admittedly, sometimes fragile), these gifts must be respected and treated with care. This is where heavenly wisdom is sorely needed. I see young teenagers giving their hearts and bodies away before they can barely read and write coherently. I see parents wasting their children’s childhood on drugs and alcohol, or on too many meetings at work (or church!) In these ways and more, pearls are crushed under muddy hooves.
And just a tangent thought: Jesus’ “casting pearls” comment also appears somewhat paradoxical, when compared with the whole “give up your life to find it” idea. That is one of the many things I love about the Bible. Like David Limbaugh so endearingly puts it in his book, Jesus on Trial, the paradoxes, the seeming contradictions in the Bible, are invitations to dig deeper to resolve them and thus, far from smashing our faith against the rocks of unanswered questions…
… they serve to help us walk on the water more confidently with Him who holds our hands.