If my local newspaper quit publishing comic strips I would probably still read it, but I wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much.
Cartoons share information in a unique and effective way; in just a few words and/or pictures, the artist can convey ideas and emotions that make us laugh, cringe, seethe, evaluate, examine, and change , often without feeling diminished or threatened.
I’ve read the “funny papers” since I was a child, and if you follow me on Facebook you know I post a cartoon there weekly, a “Friday Funny”. Through the years I’ve had several favorites-Peanuts, Garfield, The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbs, Doonesbury, -some no longer in production. But I’ve found new ones that I like and read regularly.
One is Zits, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, a strip about Connie and Walt Duncan , parents of a teenage son Jeremy. Jeremy is a typical teenager, sometimes endearing, sometimes maddening. His parents are health care professionals, Connie a child psychologist and Walt an orthodontist. Years ago, when my husband and I still had a teen son in our home, I would almost believe the writers listened in on our conversations since some days I read my own words in the strip.
I assume the title refers to the frequency that teen boys suffer from “zits”, a slang term for the skin condition, acne. Almost all teenagers develop acne; when severe it can cause significant distress; girls have it too, and sometimes it continues into early adulthood.
Now my husband and I identify more with Brian Crane’s Pickles, a strip featuring a senior couple Earl and Opal Pickles, who are enjoying retirement and grand-parenthood. But sometimes the Pickles find the senior years not so golden; the strip portrays their coping with the inevitable losses of advancing age in a bittersweet way.
My current favorite is Pearls Before Swine, a comic strip written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis. It chronicles the daily lives of an “ensemble cast of suburban anthropomorphic animals”: Pig, Rat, Zebra, Goat, and a fraternity of crocodiles, as well as a number of supporting characters.
Q) Where does the title of the strip come from?
A) Matthew 7:6: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.” (KJV) In the case of the strip, Rat thinks every thing he says is wise, and that it is wasted upon dumb Pig.
Pig tries his best to navigate a world that is often unfair, unfriendly, confusing and conflicting, and his friends do their best to help him muddle through. But as Stephan wrote, their efforts often fail, at least in their eyes.
“Pearls before swine”
Did you know that phrase is in the Bible? Jesus said it in the Sermon on the Mount preaching to a large group on a mountain, according to Matthew, but Luke recorded it as several shorter talks. It contains some of the most well known, often quoted, frequently preached words in the Bible and to me summarizes Jesus’ message to this world . Like cartoons, these three Bible chapters convey much information and inspiration in short, colorful phrases whose meaning is not always readily apparent.
Here is the verse in context, in modern language , the New International Version.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
“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.”
Matthew 7:1-6, NIV
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
(In many Bibles, words attributed to Jesus are printed in red letters.)
specks and planks
I understand the part about the eye. As a family physician I see patients complaining of a foreign body in their eye. If you’ve ever had something in your eye, you know how distressing it can be. When I examine the eye, I usually find a tiny speck, sometimes so small I need magnification to see it. It may be a speck of dust, wood shaving, or even metal. After applying a topical anesthetic (deadening eyedrop) I can easily remove the speck. The patient usually is shocked at how small it is, because to them it felt like a “plank”.
A pearl is a “concretion formed around a grain of sand or other foreign body within the shell of certain mollusks.” Doesn’t sound appealing but when we display them around our necks, ears, wrists, or fingers, they are treated as fine jewelry. Thus, the word “pearl” has become synonomous with something valuable, costly, precious, desirable.
There are also several medical terms using pearl.
- an epithelial pearl-a rounded mass of keratin found in found in some skin cancers
- a drug pearl- a medication dispensed as a pearl-like capsule
- pearl disease-tuberculosis (TB) in the chest or abdomen consisting of small rounded lesions
But the medical definition that most fits the meaning of this verse is one that all doctors learn early in their training- a clinical pearl.
Clinical pearls are small bits of free standing clinically relevant information based on experience or observationMedical Teacher
Usually clinical pearls are shared verbally, then preserved and shared as informal written notes (when I was in medical school) although now disseminated electronically. Often our professors would impart these to us during hospital rounds as we examined and discussed patients; we understood these pearls to be valuable knowledge we would not get from textbooks alone, wisdom they gained from years of study and experience.
Physicians based much of the early treatment of COVID-19 in the 2020 pandemic on clinical pearls, since as a novel disease, there were no textbooks or journal articles to use as reference. Internationally, through social media and email, doctors began sharing their experiences treating COVID patients until the information found its way into mainstream medical journals.
planks, specks, pearls, and pigs
Rather than telling you what I think these verses mean, or telling you what I think you should think they mean, I offer some questions to help you decide that they mean to you.
- What measure (or standard as used in the NLT version) do I use to judge (evaluate or examine) other people? Do I apply the same standard to myself, or do I want others to?
- What planks (logs in the NLT) are in my eye that I need to remove to see others more clearly?
- What specks bother me about others? Should I offer to remove them, and if so, how should I?
- What pearls do I “wear” that others might want or need? How do I decide to whom and when to offer pearls? How do I react when my pearls are trampled?
before you leave, here’s another post based on Matthew 7, featuring a poem by Robert Frost
Despite Frost’s assertion that his poem was a joke, multiple commentaries dissect it extensively and assign all kinds of meaning to it, suggesting that we do believe that our choices matter in life, whether relationships, finances, education, or health.
exploring the HEART of faith, hope, and love
I’m hope you enjoyed exploring these Bible verses with me today, and before you leave I hope you will read some of the other posts about the Sermon.
Please look for these cartoons in your newspaper, online, or in one of their books using the affiliate links above. Affiliate commissions help me continue sharing the HEART of health here and with organizations that do so around the world to those who need it the most yet lack access the most .