Monday, March 03, 2008
One of the parables that speaks most profoundly to my heart is about the woman Jesus calls a dog. I still remember sitting at Mass one summer morning as Father told us that he didn't know why Jesus called her a dog, so he couldn't speak to that.
But I understand why now, although I didn't then. I think that maybe you have to be a "dog person" in order to see what Jesus was getting at.
The woman was a pagan and her daughter was very sick. So she went to Jesus and withstood the derision of His Apostles, even went to her knees to beg. She compared herself to a dog who receives even the scraps from its Master's table, after Jesus tells her he can not cast to the dogs what is meant for the children.
I love this parable. I'm not the woman; I'm the dog, willing to receive what is cast off. And so was she.
It is not about an abasement of true dignity; it is a parable about digging deeper in the reality of who Jesus is, and who we are in relation to God. In our "feel-good" culture, we are seen as mentally ill if we accurately ascertain that we are dust, and to dust we will return. We are seen as "weak" if we put on the mind of God and seek to submit to His Divine will, and work to live our lives out in obedience.
Many see this comparison to a dog as a negative thing; for we are human beings, and in most of the scriptures, dogs are not captured in a very good light. They seem downright disgusting, in fact.
I feel I must step forward and defend the honor of dogs, however, because indeed, they are noble creatures, for all their...uh...habits.
In my life, I have had several dogs, each with their own personality, each with a particular lesson for me. I will not go into detail about each lesson, but rather, will discuss the generalities.
Right now, I live alone, and I got the dog I have now, a German Shepherd, shortly after I bought my house. I have a gun and I have ammo, but in the presence of a canine, I don't feel the need to keep it loaded and near at hand...as I did when I lived in south Minneapolis in a corner room with no way out.
So my dog is, first and foremost, a companion and a defender. That is something noble.
Secondly, this dog, and others that I have owned, have brought certain flaws to my attention. I remember our early months, in which she and I were still getting acquainted, and I remember some of my reactions to her canine behaviors. Her behavior was very dog-like, and even some specific German-Shepherd-like flavorings. And my reaction was less than holy. In reality, what I learned from those interactios brought me to the Confessional and to God's mercy as that dog helped me to identify my shortcomings.
I was humbled by a dog. Truly.
I've also seen other qualities out of her, things that have made me contemplate different attributes of God.
When I call, she comes. Not always, as sometimes I have to call a few times in order to get her attention. And when she comes, she is always prancing and pleased...but still maybe distracted by things outside the walls of our home. And yet I still love her and am grateful for her presence.
There are times when I have come home from work only to find her "apologizing" for something. I can't see anything obvious...there is nothing to indicate she has done something wrong. But her behavior is distinctive...her ears are back, her head is ducked, and she sits on my feet, looking upwards with big eyes, wagging the tip of her tail.
There's no mistaking it...she's done something wrong. Sometimes it's HOURS before I discover the problem. Animal behaviorists will argue that dogs don't know right from wrong. I agree, to a point; certainly they do not have the ability to discern morality, however, they DO remember what behaviors have gotten them in trouble in the past. They live mostly in the moment, but if they did not recognize what they have learned as proper behavior, they would be untrainable. Thus, they DO know when they have done something wrong, as previously defined in their experience.
And thus the apologetic behavior.
And when she comes to me with those big eyes and flattened ears, when she ducks her head in appeasement, I can't help but reach down to her, still shaking a finger, but loving her that much more. Because...she's just so darn cute!
And the loyalty...dogs are well known for their loyalty, for their devotion, for their companionship, their ability to attach to their master or mistress. Loyalty is a virtue.
So I ask you...
How much more does God love us when we have done wrong? How much more is He willing to forgive when we approach Him begging for mercy? If I, in all my sinfulness, can forgive my dog and feel my heart swell as she sits on my feet in apology, how much greater is God's mercy for us? Especially when you consider the kinds of things we as humans do and the real harm that we cause. And how much more does God demand our loyalty, and how much more meaningful is it, truly? I can only WISH I was as loyal to God as my dog is to me.
I could go on and on, but suspect it is not necessary. I know why Jesus called that woman a dog, and if He called me as such, I would recognize it as the compliment that He intended. Would that I were a dog! One belonging only to God, my loyalty pledged, recognizing my Master. Expecting to be fed, dependent upon His hand, living in the moment so as to glorify God in all circumstances.
In my more recent musings about becoming a Third Order Dominican, I have considered the symbol of a dog with a torch in his mouth. It comes from a play on words, of "Domine" (God) and "Canis" (dog). God's dog.
How proper for me. About a year ago I prayed to God, using that scripture passage, to throw me a few scraps. And indeed, He has. For God always provides. And it seems he was calling me even more deeply into that scripture...to truly become that dog, to dedicate myself more fully to Him, to recgonize Him as my master, just as a dog recognizes his Master.
Would that I would have the attributes of a dog...if I did, I'd be a lot closer to sainthood.