Jesus, the Dog Lover
“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs
that fall from their master’s table.
You have to be a dog lover to understand this passage, and if by chance you don’t happen to be one, this may be God’s way of encouraging you to become one.
Take this passage at face value and it appears that Jesus is not only terribly insensitive, but may also have a gender bias, an ethnic bias, and a religious bias ~ all of which are completely out of character for the only begotten Son of the Living God.
Therefore, the only way this passage makes any sense at all is to enjoy the personality of Jesus (which we have come to know in the Spirit of the Risen and Living Lord) interacting with the personality of the woman from Cana of Galilee, because the value of the passage is not in the words but in their body language.
In other words, we have to see the twinkle in his eyes, the coy cock of his head, the gestures that spoke more accurately than his words in order to appreciate the fact that he was not only engaging the woman who requested healing for her daughter, but was also engaging his followers in every age to reveal the danger of gender bias, of tragedy of ethnic prejudice, and the shame of religious privilege.
The clue to the proper understanding of this passage, I do believe, is the dog lover reference that highlights the conversation between them and ties them emotionally to you and to me ~ assuming that we are in fact dog lovers.
Do we need to take a moment to define a dog lover? A dog lover is one who appreciates the way God put the dog’s smile on the other end ~ in the tail, so that joy can be wagged with uninhibited gladness. A dog lover is one knows that no matter how much obedience training the dog has had, the dog still teaches its master far more about obedience than the other way around. And a dog lover knows what every dog knows, that crumbs don’t accidentally fall from the master’s table.
As for the cultural assumptions of the day, women were not considered to be equal with men, Gentiles (non-Jews) were not considered to be equal with Jews, and people of other religious traditions were not considered to be equal to those who practiced the true faith of the Hebrews. It was those three assumptions that Jesus took on in this delightful passage of Gospel literature.
How Jesus knew that the woman from Cana in Galilee had the intellectual agility, the emotional stamina, and the spiritual capacity to engage him as she did I cannot say. But I suspect that he knew when he looked into the windows of her soul ~ and in that moment what she saw in his eyes let her know that the game was on!
Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon. He looked to his disciples as if to say, What shall I do with this woman? And we know he did that because of their response ~ a response that revealed a gender bias: Send her away for she is crying after us! They would not have said that about the centurion who came to ask a favor of Jesus, but a crying woman was perceived to be a personal distraction, a public nuisance. It was a condescending sexist comment ~ and Jesus was exposing it in them for our benefit!
He had to have given her a wink out of the corner of his eye, as if to say to her: Hang on a moment longer, let’s see how they respond to this one! I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, he said. In other words, she’s not a Jew and Jews have nothing to do with Gentiles. The disciples’ silence was telling, for even to them his words seemed strange, because they knew he spent most of his time teaching, healing, and enjoying the fellowship of non-Jews. Yet his words were disconcerting, for they knew that he was challenging the ethnic prejudice of the Hebrew race, the assumption that they alone were God’s chosen people.
His body language clearly spoke more profoundly than his words ~ because the disciples knew he was not insulting the woman and so did she! For she came forward and knelt before him ~ the very image of devotion before this Hebrew ~ and once again she pleaded, Lord, help me.
Somehow she knew that he was leading her on even though his words seemed to betray his body language. It is not fair, he said, (perhaps with telling grin) to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. It was a direct assault on the religious privilege of Israel ~ the self-centered assumption that they alone shared special favor with God. Yet, by his very words Jesus was throwing the children’s bread to the dogs (and her posture at his feet may even have been the inspiration for his response).
And this is how I know that Jesus and the woman were dog lovers ~ for dog lovers have a way of finding each other in life ~ and she recognized his clue and picked it up and threw it right back at him ~ and he knew she would ~ on her face to look of pure delight: Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.
You have to see new excitement on Jesus’ face as pure delight radiated from deep within: O woman! ~ a gender reference with respect and admiration, Great is your faith ~ a reference to racial inclusiveness beyond the Hebrews, be it done for you as you desire ~ a reference to religious inclusiveness (God working miracles with non-Jews), and her daughter was healed instantly!
The visuals of that encounter have faded with the passage of time ~ only the words remain; but dog lovers in every age have known from that moment on that God’s mercy falls upon us all the way crumbs fall from the master’s table. And by that exchange, our Lord made it clear to the ages that no one ~ regardless of gender, race, or religion ~ has any exclusive claim upon the love and mercy of God.
So we find ourselves here on the pathway of life ~ caught up once more in public dialogues about gender, race and religion ~ and from this precious three timeless warnings stand out:
- If you’re ever tempted to play the gender card, don’t do it, for you will only make a fool of yourself ~ projecting onto another your own gender bias ~ and offend the creative imagination of God!
- If you’re ever tempted to play the race card, don’t do it, because you will only heap condemnation upon yourself by projecting onto others your own racial prejudice, and you will offend the unmerited grace of God!
- If you’re ever tempted to play the religious privilege card, please don’t do it, for you will only isolate yourself from the human race and diminish your experience of divine grace ~ for God’s love is for all of us!
It takes a dog lover to feel the good old-fashioned tail-wagging joy that comes when God’s unmerited grace abounds ~ and to appreciate the fact that God put that tail-wagging smile on the dog, …and not on the human!
David Hodgson, PPC August 1, 2021