Lipstick on a Pig
Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you. Matthew 7:6
When Jesus says, “Do not throw your pearls before swine,” I think of the old proverb, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” The point of the proverb is that you cannot change the inner essence of something simply by decorating the exterior. Another similar, though perhaps unrelated, saying that comes to my mind is this: “Arguing with an engineer (or insert the profession or person of choice here) is like wrestling in the mud with a pig. After a couple of hours you realize the pig is enjoying it.”
While Jesus’ words are less crude than the folk wisdom I cited, I believe the point is similar. Who and what we are dealing with should determine how we proceed. Jesus says if we give what is holy to a dog or pearls to pigs, they will not treat our gifts with a level of reverence that we consider appropriate. Why? Because they do not perceive the inherent beauty and value that we see. Is that a fault in their character? Of course not! It is our perception that ascribes the value, and pigs and dogs have a much different perspective of what is valuable or useful for their purposes. Consider the thought of giving a new computer to a person in a third world country who has no access to electricity, let alone to the internet. They might use the computer as yard art, as a doorstop, or as a conversation piece with their neighbors, but it will never open their eyes to the world we know in the way we may have hoped. It cannot do what we wish for that person, no matter how good or honorable our intentions, nor can the other appreciate it in the way we intend. Likewise, if we give a Rolex to a toddler, they will just chew on it.
The lesson in Jesus’ words has nothing to do with dogs and pigs, however, but in how we treat others. If someone does not share our appreciation for enlightened readings, why would we share them with that person? They will treat what we value as if it were worthless. Who is likely to be offended? It is us, of course! A better approach to share the joys of enlightenment is to find out where the other person is in his or her spiritual journey and meet them there. Who knows, we may find they are enlightened in ways we are not.
The reason Jesus provides for not giving gifts that others cannot appreciate is not only that they will trample them under foot, but also that they will turn and maul you. They may actually strike out in anger against us. One problem with giving something we think another person needs or wants is the very assumption he or she needs or wants anything from us. It may be more an expression of our well-intentioned, but arrogant assumption than his or her actual need or desire. If, in our sincere effort to help, we offend instead – we make them feel less a person – we can expect a negative and perhaps aggressive reaction. Particularly in giving advice, we cannot show a person a better way unless and until we know they (1) actually need a better way, and (2) desire to receive what we have to offer. Otherwise, we are simply throwing our “pearls” before swine, to paraphrase Jesus.
I hope not to imply that I consider those who have different thoughts about what is holy and valuable than me to be dogs or swine. I must remind myself regularly that what I value is what I value – nothing more, nothing less. Further, if I want to give something to others, it is best to give unconditionally, meaning without expectation of whether they use or appreciate the gift in the way I intended. If I cannot give something freely, I am probably still too attached to it and am likely to feel I have just given pearls to pigs.
Finally, I cannot resist sharing another “pig proverb,” this one from the author, Robert Heinlein: “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig”.1
This is the 25th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”
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1 http://thinkexist.com/quotation/never_try_to_teach_a_pig_to_sing-it_wastes_your/218581.html, accessed June 18, 2018.