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Dave Brisbin

Pearls and Rings

A pastor came with us to Mexico to deliver food and supplies to one of the poorest areas along the US border. Our organization supplied five dining rooms that served before-school breakfasts, and the women who served the children every morning insisted on serving us lunch, because that was who they were.

After lunch the pastor sat the women down and through an interpreter, led them through the “sinner’s prayer,” the ritual he believed brought them into the Christian fold and made them acceptable to God. The women dutifully did as he asked, but came to me later highly insulted.

What went wrong?

With every good intention but without knowing them, the pastor judged what they needed according to his standard of faith. He didn’t know they were all devout Catholics or Protestants who rose in the dark every morning to hours of work preparing food, cleaning for the next day, loving those kids as their own expression of gospel. Without taking time to find out whether they wanted or needed his help, he went home feeling he did well, leaving me to repair relationships as best I could.

When Jesus tells us not to give what is holy to dogs or throw our pearls before pigs, what sounds so condescending and exclusionary is really just addressing what went wrong in Mexico. In Jesus’ culture, what was holy was the “ring,” the symbol for Torah and Law: since Israel was the bride of Yahweh, Torah was the ring that bound them to God. Pearls were the symbol of the wisdom gleaned from the study of Torah. Don’t push the law on someone who is opposed or antagonistic, or they will turn and tear you to pieces. Don’t teach wisdom to someone who is unprepared, or they will trample it, unrecognized and unassimilated.

Judging always keeps us at least arm’s length from each other. Discernment requires a dive into the experience of relationship to see what love requires. In Mexico, the women far exceeded our poor understanding of gospel. They needed our food and supplies, but not our pearls and rings.

We needed to know the difference.


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