Tag Archives: Dogs

God’s People, part 197: Dog

Read Mark 7:24-30

“But the voice spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’”  (Acts 10:15, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

DogsPart 197: Dog. This is one of those moments when even the most unquestioning, unwavering Christian has to be wondering, “What gives?” In the Scripture reading for this devotion, we have an episode where Jesus seemingly dehumanized her and almost completely snubbed her. Of course, he did eventually acquiesced to her, so it was not a total snub, but still, “What gives?”

In this account, which is recorded in both Mark and Matthew, the woman was a Gentile. Mark describes her as a “Syrophoenician woman” and Matthew describes her as a Canaanite. While those two descriptions may seem different, they aren’t actually. Tyre, where Jesus found this woman, and Sidon were both cities that were built by the Canaanites and were a part of the land of Canaan. Thus, Syria and Phoenicia were actually Canaanite.

Thus, this woman was a non-Jew, and belonged to a country of people who were enemies of the Jews. She approached Jesus because her daughter was possessed and she was hoping he would heal her. Instead of healing the daughter, Jesus first dismissed the woman: “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs”  (Mark 7:27, NLT).

Sure, this woman was not a Jew and sure Jesus had come as the Jewish Messiah, but he was traveling in HER LAND. Why dismiss her like that. Worse yet, why call her a dog. How dehumanizing is that? I have heard a lot of people try to explain this away by saying, “Oh, Jesus was just testing her faith.” Sure, that is a possibility; however, couldn’t have done so in a less humiliating and degrading way than that?

I don’t think that Jesus was testing her faith at all. Clearly, she had faith in him if, as a Canaanite woman, she sought him out to exorcise her daughter. That would have taken a tremendous amount of faith and humility, quite honestly. What’s more, Jesus didn’t apply that same standard to the Roman centurion or any other non-Jew he interacted with.

I have always seen something else here at play. The religious leaders had been challenging Jesus at every turn and he was being rejected by his own people. This is so true that Jesus often found himself traveling with his disciples outside of Jewish territories. In fact, right before the interaction with this woman, the religious leaders were questioning Jesus on ritual and dietary purity. Jesus chastised them and proceeded to say that food is not what defiles someone. Mark then added the following commentary, “By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.” (Mark 7:19, NLT)

This would have been a big deal and, what’s more, dietary laws were one of the ways that Jews were differentiated from Gentiles such as the Canaanites. Thus, I do not think Jesus’ initial response to the woman was actually intended to be a slight against her; rather, I think he was echoing the unclean thoughts that defiled his own people. He treated her, initially, in a way that the religious leaders and other Jews thought of her.

But the account did not end there, did it? The woman acknowledged Jesus’ words and then retorted, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children’s plates” (Mark 7:28, NLT). At that point, Jesus lightened up, commended her answer, and sent her home with these words, “the demon has left your daughter.”

What Jesus did there was further expose the hypocrisy and impurity of those who saw themselves as pure. This Canaanite, Syrophoenician, non-Jewish woman who ate swine and was generally deemed to be impure was, in actuality, the one who had faith and was clean in God’s sight. This should actually be a lesson for all of us who see ourselves as clean, or pure, or “saved”. Christians are just as culpable as the Jewish religious leaders in seeing themselves as above those who are non-Christian and “unsaved”.

The challenge for us as Christians is to humble ourselves and remember God is the one who deems who is clean and/or unclean, not us. We are not some how more valuable that those we look at as “dogs.” Whether they be immigrants, the poor, criminals, the “unchurched”, or whatever label we use to define and describe the other, Jesus can be found among them. When we exclude others, we end up excluding Christ along with them. The challenge for us is to drop our perception and pick up Christ’s.

Let us remember that while we may be “saved”, that is only because we are sinners in need of saving.

Lord, help me to humble myself so that I can see the sinner that I am and work on removing my own logs, rather than other people’s specs. Amen.

The Sermon, part 23: Dogs and Pigs

Read Matthew 7:6

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.” (Matthew 7:13 NLT)

pigsandpearlsHere, in Matthew 7:6, we have yet another obscure saying from Jesus, who uses shocking language that often confuses and befuddles his audience. Its not the overall point of the statement, or what seems to be the overall point, that is shocking; rather, it is the “name calling” that is shocking. It is quite clear that Jesus isn’t talking about literal dogs or pigs but is using those terms to describe unholy people. Why would Jesus use such language? It’s not the only time that he did, either. In Matthew 15:27, Jesus used the word “dog” toward a Canaanite woman as well.

Why would Jesus call people pigs? There is absolutely no parallel to this anywhere else in the New Testament. What is up with the use of dogs and pigs? It seems that the answer, as is usually the case, is not all that clear. What is clear is that, in Matthew 7:6, Jesus is not using the term dogs in the same way as he was toward the Canaanite woman. In that passage, the woman was pleading for help and he told her that he had come for the people of Israel, not for Gentiles. He uses “children” to describe Israel and “dogs” to describe Gentiles, in order to make the point that one first feeds their children before they throw what is left to the ravenous dogs.

That brings me to another important point. When you hear dogs, try to take off your 21st century lenses and put on your 1st century glasses. In 1st century Judea, dogs were not cute, lovable pets. They were seen as wild, unruly, ravenous, and dangerous animals that were prowling the streets looking for whatever they could scavenge and sink their teeth into. Like Jesus’ allusion to wolves, his use of the word “dogs” was intended to evoke images of dangerous creatures that could charge you at any minute and turn you into their next meal.

Pigs, on the other hand, are considered to be unclean in Judaism. They are forbidden by Torah to be use for food, and must be avoided at all costs. To come in contact with a pig and/or to eat it would make one unclean, and there were even prohibitions against breeding pigs. What’s more, pigs are known for being in the mud, so to throw one’s pearls before swine is to throw one’s pearls into the mud.

Now that the basics have been laid out above, let’s try and make sense of what Jesus is saying here. The focus of Jesus’ message in verse 6 is holiness. Jesus is warning his disciples to keep in mind their own holiness. To be holy is to be set apart for God and God alone. It is so easy to sell out our beliefs and our values in order to fit in and go with the flow. Yet, the only guarantee we have is in God, who promised to be with us always. Yet the easy way, the most comfortable way, often leads to our own destruction. The easy path usually ends up betraying and imprisoning us, leading us to a dead end. The people and the things we end up compromising our values for, more often than not, turn on us like a pack of ravenous, wild dogs.

If we value ourselves and our relationship with God, it makes no sense to compromise those things anymore than it makes sense to take one’s pearls and throw them into the muddy pig pen. Rather, we should invest ourselves in what is valuable, and steer clear from the dogs and pigs. By steer clear, I do not mean shun, ignore, or judge. The last devotion is clear on where Jesus stands on judging. By steer clear, I mean to not put one’s hope in what is hopeless, and to not compromise one’s values and beliefs by settling for comfort and complacency.

We were created by God to be holy, to be set apart for God and for the Kingdom of God. Our call is to invest ourselves in God, as well as in God’s Kingdom. Jesus did that, and he did not settle for the easy road. I think it is safe to say that the road to calvary IS NEVER EASY, but it is the only way to the resurrection. It is the only way to eternal life. We must be willing to die to what is unholy in us, and we must be willing to let go of our foolish investment in what is unholy around us in order to take that journey with Christ.

What does that mean exactly? That means that each of us should be investing ourselves in seeking out Christ, and seeking out the purpose Christ has put before us. What is that purpose? To spread the love, the peace, the hope, the healing, and the wholeness of God. Our purpose is to stand up for justice and to live justly. Our purpose is to LOVE and to always show mercy. Our purpose is to walk humbly with God. All other paths lead to a dead end, but the road to calvary, the road to the cross, leads to the Kingdom of God and eternal life.

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” – William Shakespeare
Lord, help me see clear the distinction between the dead end highway and the road to Calvary. Amen.