A few years ago, my parents had just returned home from church on Easter Sunday. They were met at their gate by two people who were going door to door, and in their words, “making disciples, teaching others to observe all that Jesus commanded in the great commission.” My father pointed out that his was a Christian home and that our family has always been involved in acts of Christian witness and service. He suggested that the visiting couple should consider reaching out to the helpless and hopeless, people who needed to hear the Good News, particularly those in an economically depressed, crime-ridden area a few kilometers away. In response, one of the visitors said that “those people” are not interested in the Bible and she went on to quote Matthew 7 v 6: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
The common interpretation of this verse is that Christians shouldn’t waste time preaching to people who don’t want to hear the Good News. The assumption is that some people are beyond God’s redemption. Apart from being a subjective and judgemental interpretation, my reflection leads me to believe that this interpretation is also an easy excuse to avoid doing the essential work of mission.
Isn’t is easier to be hands-off – write a cheque or donate food and used clothing – rather than be committed to the going into the places to meet the marginalized, gravely ill and those relegated to the scrapheap of society? Isn’t it easier to preach to the converted within the comfort zone of our circle of influence, than to bring the Good News to the hopeless and helpless among us? I suspect that the comment made by the visitor to my parents’ home was rooted in the fear of stepping out of his comfort zone. This fear is very often shrouded in judgemental comments and personal preferences that are then justified by subjective interpretations of Bible verses such as the one quoted by the visitors.
Going beyond our preferences
Conventional wisdom teaches us to offer our help to people who ask for help and to contribute towards the obvious material needs of others. The church’s mission transcends conventional wisdom and goes beyond our preferences and perceptions of how, where and who to serve. The church’s mission is rooted in Jesus’ command in the great commission defined in Matthew 28 v 19 – 20 to teach others about who God is and what it means to follow Him.
Going back to Matthew 7 v 6, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces,” I am convinced that Jesus is saying that Biblical truths are precious – like pearls – and should not be wasted. By being hands-off, judging others, avoiding difficult places and people, we are not properly acting on the Biblical truths and we are wasting our call to mission – like throwing pearls to pigs. God’s truth is meant to be put to good use. Sharing the Good News and helping to transform lives, everywhere, at all times and in all places as God leads is the best and right use of the teachings of the Bible. That is what mission is all about.
The following observation made in the Mission-Shaped Church report published in 2004 by The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Council on Mission and Public Affairs, sums up the call to mission in today’s world:
The missionary situation faced by the church has changed… The change is to an outward focus: from a ‘come to us’ approach to a ‘we will go to you’ attitude, embodying the gospel where people are, rather than embodying it where we are and in ways we prefer.