In 870, Boris I- Tsar of Bulgaria, formally completed the process of converting his people to Christianity. As significant as this was for the future of the Bulgarian people, it is more important to understand that this was one of the only times the Eastern Orthodox Church- at the behest of the Byzantine Emperors Michael III and Basil I, consciously sent missionaries out to preach and baptize.
This was not because the Byzantines were lazy in their religion or hostile to the Bulgarians. It was because they were afraid of casting their pearls before swine. They felt that they were the guardians of Christianity. The worry was that they would breach what they saw as the Saviour’s injunction to guard Christian beliefs jealously and only give it to the non-believers who came to them and asked to be taught. They felt that if they went out proselyting, they would be treating the word of God with contempt.
As I have pondered upon this story I began to think more on what “casting pearls before swine” was. In the concluding section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6) Every single time I remember learning about the Sermon on the Mount, this scripture was taught as “don’t preach to those who will neither listen, nor act, nor treat the gospel with respect.” This interpretation has stayed with me all my life. For reasons that will unfold soon, I have come to see this scripture in a new way.
First, I would like to discuss what the pearl is. A literal pearl comes from clams and oysters. They are considered to be precious stones. They are still highly sought throughout the world with many commercial pearl farms in existence today. The scriptures treat the pearl in a similar way. In Matthew 13, Jesus uses the pearl in a parable to explain how we should seek the kingdom of heaven.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)
The pearl is the Gospel of Jesus Christ- the way to return home to our Father in heaven. So, when the Saviour implores us not to cast our pearls to swine, He is asking us to hold the gospel and our covenants dear to us.
Second, who are the swine? Traditionally this is seen as non-believers who will not listen to the message of the gospel. It is easy to see this interpretation in our lives. How many times do we see flippant comments about the beliefs and practices of Christians all over the world on social media? How many times do we see people try to tear down the church because of misunderstandings- both willful and innocent?
In some ways we are all the swine spoken of. We all have things we don't like to talk about, or hear from others. We all have things we treat with contempt. When people try to share these things with us, we turn on them and rend them. We choose not to hear and not to act. Granted, there are a large number of influences and discussions that are evil and should be avoided, but there are many people out in the world that want to see us succeed and grow. We sometimes let the natural man (see Mosiah 3:19) get in the way of hearing and acting upon those good influences. To make this explanation short- the swine are those who won’t receive good influences and change from the natural man.
I would like to discuss the Day of Pentecost that is written of in the New Testament. Shortly after the ascension of the Saviour into heaven, the apostles were in the temple. It was during the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot)- which celebrates Moses receiving the revelations on Mount Sinai which were then recorded in the Torah. It was a time when Jews from all over the known world traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the revealed word of God. Many Jews who traveled to Jerusalem were fluent in different languages and would not have understood the local language (Aramaic) that the apostles and the Jews of Judaea used.
The book of Acts tells us that the apostles were filled with the Holy Ghost and they “began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4) As they went about preaching, the Jews that had traveled to Jerusalem heard the apostles speak in their native languages. These pilgrims marveled that they could understand these men who had never traveled outside of Judaea before and did not know Latin, Greek, Persian, Egyptian, Arabic or any of the other languages represented. Some mocked the apostles saying they were “full of new wine.” (Acts 2:13)
Peter was quick to counter these mockers. He stood and proclaimed to the people that this event was fulfilling the prophecy of Joel:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:.... And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath…” (Acts 2: 17-19)
Peter then taught the people of Jesus and His mission. He taught them of the Atonement and how, if they repented and followed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they would be free of “the pains of death….” (Acts 2:24)
The gathered crowd had their hearts pricked. In other words, they felt the Holy Ghost testifying of the truthfulness of Peter’s words. They asked Peter and the other apostles what they should do. Peter invited them to repent, be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Then he said: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are a far off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:39)
The message of the gospel that Peter and the apostles taught was given to each person in a way that they all could understand- it was in their own language and was accompanied by the testimony of the Holy Ghost. The gospel was taught in a way that was meaningful for each person there. This is the new way I have begun to understand casting pearls before swine. We are all different. We all learn and understand in different ways and at different times. The message of the gospel does not change, but how we are taught it is tailor made to resonate with us and confirmed by the power of the Holy Ghost.
As a teacher, I have the opportunity to teach many children. Each has their own foundation of understanding for the material that is being covered. It is my responsibility to help them gain a firm knowledge of the lessons they are given. To accomplish this, I use many different types of questions, examples and activities so they can “click” with what they are being taught. A lot of the time, this does not happen until I have repeated the lesson more than once.
So it is with us. How many times have we studied the standard works in Sunday School over the course of our lives? Why do we keep repeating it? Because we always find something new and intriguing when we repeat and re-examine the scriptures.
Alma is a good example of teaching everyone according to their language. Before he finished his ministry, he spoke to his sons- leaving them with fatherly advice and his testimony.
To Helaman, he explained his experience with the angel and his ultimate conversion to the gospel. He spelled out his fears, pains and torments while unconscious.
“...[W]hen I heard the words—If thou wilt be destroyed of thyself, seek no more to destroy the church of God—I was struck with such great fear and amazement lest perhaps I should be destroyed, that I fell to the earth and I did hear no more. But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.” (Alma 36:11-13)
After his torments, Alma remembered that there would be an Atonement made by Jesus as taught by his father. Alma prayed, asking for mercy and a release from his torment.
“And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.” (Alma 36: 19-21)
This experience was the great turning point in Alma’s life. The point where he dedicated himself to preaching the gospel and working hard for the salvation of the people of Nephi. It was a good example of repentance and turning to God.
After teaching Helaman, Alma went and spoke with his son Corianton. Now, Corianton had made some serious mistakes in the past. While on a mission to the Zoramites with his father, Corianton broke the law of chastity when he chased after a harlot. Alma knew that he needed to repent. Surely the conversion story that he shared with Helaman would be a great way to teach repentance to his other son, right? This was not the case. He wanted Corianton to “turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done.” (Alma 39:13) Alma knew that his son was troubled with the repentance process and how it was to be done (see Alma 39:15-19).
Alma spent the next three chapters teaching Corianton about the resurrection, the judgment, and how this mortal life is meant for us to repent of our mistakes and serve God. He taught all this slowly, building theme upon theme and working through each detail so Corianton could understand. This was very different from his talk with Helaman. If Alma had decided to share this story to Corianton, it would have been casting his pearls before swine. Corianton did not understand repentance, the resurrection, or the purpose of mortal life. The conversion story would not have helped him work through his challenges and repent of his mistakes. Instead, it could have taught Corianton that repentance only came through the appearance of angels and being struck dumb. Alma knew his audience and took the time to teach his sons according to their own understanding and got the most out of the pearls he gave them.
With these examples of teaching according to understanding we have to answer the question: Does the Lord cast His pearls before swine? The short answer is no, He does not. As mentioned before, we are all different and learn in unique ways. The only common way that we learn is through the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. In Doctrine and Covenants section 46 the Lord shares some of the gifts of the spirit. The list isn’t the portion that I would like to highlight at this time. Rather, I would like to focus on the repetition of the words “to some” and “to others.” For the list of spiritual gifts and how the Lord introduces them see D&C 46:13-27. These phrases show that the Lord knows us individually and knows how to reach us. Jesus teaches us, encourages us, blesses us, warns us, and corrects us according to our personal circumstance.
Ministering is a grand application of the principle of casting pearls properly. When the Home Teaching program was used in the church, every single family had the opportunity to hear the exact same lesson. While good, this approach was of the “one size fits all” variety. In the October General Conference in 2007, President Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk entitled “Good, Better, Best.” In this talk, he spoke about how there are things in life that are good to pursue, some that are better, and others which are best. As we have grown as a church, the Lord has hastened His work and directed changes in how we are to reach out to each other. We have moved from the Home Teaching program to something that is better: the Ministering program.
This program no longer has the “one size fits all” approach to reaching out to the families of the church. We are encouraged to make what I call “Meaningful Contact.” Meaningful Contact is the inspired service we give to those we Minister to. The beauty of this program is that we are all given latitude to reach out however we want to the families of the church. There is one catch- we are to reach out with love.
This is where the “meaningful” part comes in. It is not enough to just bake cookies or say hi. That is improperly casting out our pearls. We must pray for those we Minister to and ask the Lord how we can help them come closer to Him. Ministering is meant to help each of us stay on the Covenant Path. Since we all learn and grow differently, we need an inspired Minister to reach out and help us. If all we receive from our Ministers is warm, home-baked chocolate chip cookies, we will love them for their baking skills but not receive the meaningful contact that will help us feel the Spirit and act upon promptings to come closer to God.
I had an investigator on my mission that was not progressing very well- he had a hard time reading and following through on commitments. It was about the fourth or fifth visit we made that I realized that he loved the Twilight books. I decided to ask him how many pages were in the books. I cannot remember the exact number but it was around 2000 pages for all four books. I then asked him how long it would take him to read all four books back to back. He said that he could do it in twelve hours. My companion and I showed him how many pages were in the Book of Mormon (531). We challenged him to read the Book of Mormon in twelve hours over the course of the next week and then see how he was doing. When we came back the next week we noticed that there was a definite change in his understanding of the gospel. He was able to articulate answers to our questions, held onto what we taught him better, and was able to keep his commitments. Eventually, he was baptized. I have no doubt that the Spirit whispered to my companion and I that this young man needed to be shown a comparison and given a challenge to read the Book of Mormon so he could progress and hold the pearl of great price dear to himself. When we listen to these promptings, our Ministering and missionary work will greatly improve.
To conclude, I will share the most important lesson I learned from my mission: It is not what you are taught, it is how you apply it. When we learn things, we can choose to accept it or refuse it. Sometimes it takes once for a lesson to stick, while for others we need a lot of repetition until we are ready to hear and act. When we seek the Lord’s help in learning His will, it will be easier for us to hold onto the pearl of great price and not be the swine that will trample it under our feet. It is important that we don't treat the message and covenants of the Gospel of Jesus Christ lightly. We don't want to share it without the proper intent because that could harm a person’s progression on the Covenant Path. We also don't want to take our covenants lightly . When we do either one of these, we are in effect casting our pearls before swine.