Good Dog

Good Dog  |  Matthew 15:21-28

Dogs are Rock StarsJesus calls a woman a dog. It’s a twice told story, found in both Matthew 15 and Mark 7. Mark’s Gospel was written first, meaning that the account in Matthew is based on the story in Mark.

Most of us build on what somebody else has done. Matthew built on Mark. Mark, according to tradition, built on what Peter recounted—his memories, the stories he told. Peter, of course, built on what he had seen and heard and touched, to use the language of the New Testament letter of 1 John.

The woman in this story, the woman who comes to Jesus and asks for his help, is an outsider. Jesus and his followers are Jewish—she is not. Jesus and his followers live in mostly Jewish towns—she does not. She is a foreigner to them, an outsider. Nevertheless, she comes on purpose to find this Jesus, this Jewish man who is surrounded by people who look down on Gentiles like her. She is ready to humiliate herself at his feet, if need be, to get his help for her daughter.

Anyone with children can understand. She is desperate. Imagine your child with an illness, one that the usual doctors are not able to treat. Which of us would not beg the help of some famous doctor, if we had faith or hope that she could help?

This foreigner is also very much like another woman from another story, a much older tale from 1 Kings 17—a woman with a sick child pleads for help from Elijah. (The Old Testament echo is all the more interesting when we think of the Gospel symbolism of John the Baptist as Elijah reborn, this time pointing to the coming messiah.)

When this foreign woman finds Jesus, she doesn’t get a warm reception. First, Jesus ignores her, which his followers expected him to do—who is this foreign woman who is expecting to meet Jesus, after all? Then he calls her a dog. It’s not a friendly pet name, not a term of endearment. It’s an insult.

Now everybody is uncomfortable.

Jesus is making a point, of course—but to whom? Who is being taught—the woman, or the people around him who truly have a low opinion of this foreigner? After all, why should this foreigner receive the benefits promised to the chosen people?

The woman herself takes no offense; if she does, she hides her feelings well. Maybe she is used to it. Maybe she expected it. That is not unusual with people who regularly meet with prejudice, racism, bigotry.

Whatever her reasons, she doesn’t bristle at being called a dog. Instead she waits for crumbs from the table. In fact, she anticipates her position, begging for scraps of mercy. I think that she knows what Jesus is doing, that she looks in his eyes and knows that he is addressing the racism and bigotry he sees in the eyes of his own followers.

And dogs are some of the finest people I know. Perhaps this woman feels the same way.

We would do well to emulate most of the dogs we meet. Think of their qualities—devoted, loyal, with reasonable expectations, a reasonable degree of obedience, taking comfort and joy in the simplest things. If we were more like our dogs, we would be better people. That’s true of most animals, come to think about it.

What about cats and squirrels, you say? Well, nobody is perfect.



Liturgy of the Palms  |  Matthew 21:1-11

Expectations. We all have them.

There was an entire crowd watching this man Jesus riding into Jerusalem. They came together just to see him, to line the road with soft tree branches and even with their own clothing. He was a rock star.

Another crowd was watching from inside the city, and they asked who this man was. It was a good question, seeing all the fuss.

This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.

That is the answer the crowd by the road gave, according to Matthew’s gospel. (They didn’t actually have rock stars in the first century.) What they thought about him was less clear, perhaps even to them. They had expectations, though, that much is certain.

We have expectations of God—what God wants, what God is like, what God is doing, often of what God is going to do for us. When God doesn’t meet our expectations, we either blame ourselves as being unworthy or we blame God: guilt or disappointment. We seldom examine our actual expectations.

I might expect my dog to fetch my newspaper. Other people Dogs are Rock Starshave told me that dogs do that sort of thing. I’ve seen it happen in movies. In actuality, my Westie will jump onto the back of a chair by the window and watch me fetch the paper, or anything else that needs to be brought inside. He will, on occasion, fetch something from inside the house and take it outside, such as one of my shoes.

The problem is my expectations. No one, meaning me, ever taught my dog to fetch the newspaper. In fact, I don’t even have a subscription to a newspaper. And if my dog ever went out unsupervised, I suspect that he would just keep going and send me a postcard from Hawaii. Imagining that my dog will fetch the paper is borderline mental deficiency.

We expect things of God. We might deny it, but on some level we expect God to look like the paintings, all robes and a white beard. In reality, God might look like some codger eating shrimp on a porch in Louisiana, or like a little girl with a shimmering rainbow balloon. God might decide to look like my dog, or like something we would not even recognize.

I imagine the last possibility is the most likely. God looks like something we would not recognize, perhaps do not recognize right now, right in front of us. God does things that we do not expect, in ways that do not meet our expectations.

The crowd thought that Jesus was a prophet, coming with the power of God to deliver them out of their problems. If we’ve got it right, Jesus actually was the power of God, and he did come with deliverance, just not the kind that anyone there had in mind. Maybe he wasn’t even bringing the kind that we have in mind.

When we explore the whole faith thing, we expect our lives to change, our problems to be solved, and our lives to become radically transformed, like in a movie. It doesn’t quite turn out that way, not for most of us, not most of the time.

We need to examine our expectations. Or, better, we need to get rid of our expectations altogether.

Don’t expect things about God, how God will look, what God will do, how God will react. That is mere religion, or superstition, or self delusion.

Faith just expects God.