Commentary on Matthew 7:6, 12-14
Sermon on the Mount (cont’d):
Today’s passage contains three apparently unrelated teachings of Jesus. Vv. 7-11 on prayer, which intervene, are omitted. (We need to remind ourselves that the Sermon on the Mount is not a verbatim record of a “sermon” preached by Jesus. It is a highly edited collection of sayings on the general theme of the qualities to be found in a true disciple of Jesus.)
a, “Do not give to dogs what is holy.” That is, consecrated meat from animals sacrificed in the Temple should not be given as food for dogs. We need to remember that for the Jews (as for the Muslims) dogs are unclean animals, so that is an extra reason for not giving them meat consecrated for purposes of divine worship. We may remember the remark of Jesus to the Syro-phoenician woman about not giving the food of children to dogs, a reference to Gentiles who were also thought to be unclean. Or the humiliation of Lazarus in Luke’s parable who was so helpless that he could not prevent dogs licking his sores.
Similarly something as precious as pearls should not be given to pigs, another unclean animal. Again we remember in the parable of the Prodigal Son, how after hitting rock bottom the only job he could find was to feed pigs and he was so hungry he would have eaten the pigs’ food.
In other words, Jesus is advising his followers not indiscriminately to expose their beliefs to all and sundry. While, in one sense, the Christian way is for all there are people who are not ready to hear it and will not just reject it but subject it to ridicule. This would especially apply to certain Christian practices such as the celebration of the Eucharist or other sacraments. We do not accept people into the Catholic community except after a long period of formation and initiation. Faith in Christ is a gift and not everyone receives it at once.
b, The second saying is the famous ‘Golden Rule’, which is not exclusive to Christianity or the Gospel. It is known in other cultures. What might be emphasised here is its being expressed in positive terms. There is also a negative form, ‘Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you’. There is a difference between the two. You can observe the negative maxim by doing nothing at all. The positive can only be observed by doing some good action to others and is therefore much more in line with the general teaching of Jesus.
c, The contrast between the narrow gate and the wide road. To follow the wide road is to do just about anything you feel like doing. It is to follow your likes and dislikes, your instincts and whims wherever they lead you. That is going to include following roads of greed and self-centredness, of lies and deceit, perhaps even of violence and hurt. It is clearly not a way of life.
The narrow gate is not to be narrow-minded. It is rather to be very clearly focused on certain very specific ways of thinking and acting, having one’s life guided by a clear set of truths, principles and values, those truths, principles and values which form the core of the Gospel’s teaching. In other words, the Way of Christ. It is a way that leads to life.
It is a hard road only in the sense that it requires discipline and it is true that relatively few people find it. In the long run it is the easier way because it conforms more to the deepest needs and desires of the human person. (It is important to be aware that the Way of Jesus is not an eccentric choice of lifestyle, one religion among many, but that it is in total harmony with all that human life is meant to be.) But there is no doubt that the wide undisciplined road is the easier one to follow even though in the long run it does not bring happiness.