The Readings for the Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga
Don’t cast your pearls before swine.Matthew 7:6 (NABRE)
APART FROM THE EPONYMOUS comic by Stephan Pastis, this verse usually means don’t give something important to those who don’t know how important it is. It pairs well with “don’t give what is holy to the dogs”. In our reading today, skipping over a few verses, the comment about pearls in verse 6 is seemingly linked to the Golden Rule in verse 12, however it is not so in the full text. peals, swine, and dogs are sandwiched between yesterday’s comment about taking planks out of our eyes before trying to help brothers with their splinters (in verse 5) and the skipped-over verses beginning in verse 7 with “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Then, several verses later we get to the Golden Rule. Either we have a laundry list of aphorisms or else all of this is actually linked together in a way we’re not yet seeing.
It’s time to put on our meditation caps. What follows is only my meditation, a sort of lectio whilst writing. You may use it as it or springboard off in another direction. Jesus isn’t exactly a fortune cookie of aphorisms, though, so I think these two lines need a larger context. For this reason, we should pull back a bit to a wider view.
As I mentioned yesterday, Jesus does not assume everything in the Church will be hunky-dorey. Later in Matthew (18:15-17) he gives us a way to deal with brethren (and sistren) who get out of hand. So Jesus knows some in the Church will go wrong: later (7:21) he says, “Not everyone who calls me Lord is actually in the Kingdom.” St John Chrysostom, in his commentary on Matthew, highlights not the lack of the splinter in my brother’s eye, but rather the beam in my own. He says this is a call to forego our own sins so that we can confront an errant brother.
In this light, “take the beam out of your eye first” is not an abstract idea but a direct command. Then, having purified your heart, you can discern in the Spirit if your bother is able to hear your rebuke. If he is unable to hear it at all, Chrysostom says, you are casting your pearls before swine to even try. You are giving what is holy (your attention, your teaching, your time) to the dogs.
But, the passage continues, you know if someone asks for something good, God will give it to them. Pray for your brother or sister engaged in sin. Beg God for their salvation. They may not yet be able to hear you, but God can always hear you. This is important for us: for we know many around the Church in error who won’t listen. Even clergy. Every rainbow we see this month in Church is a reminder.
So we pray. And we struggle. We work out our salvation in fear and trembling and – once the beam is out of our own eye – we can prayerfully discern what to do about others in their sins. But first, work on the beam.