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The Gospel According to DogsWhat Our Four-Legged Saints Can Teach Us
"If anyone is in Christ," says St. Paul, "he is a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17, RSV). "It does not matter at all whether or not one is circumcised," says Paul; "what does matter is being a new creature" (Galatians 6:15, GNB). Okay, so Christians are "new creatures." But just exactly what kind of "new creatures" have they become? They're now dogs. Jesus makes this clear when a Canaanite—that is, a "canineite"—woman falls at his feet. This woman is dogging the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples and making a complete nuisance of herself (Matthew 15:2128). "Send her away," the disciples say, "for she keeps shouting after us" (v. 23). So Jesus turns to her and says, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (v. 24). Does this stop her? Not even almost. "But she came and knelt before him," Matthew tells us (v. 25). Get the picture? If not, Rembrandt, with one of his drawings of this scene, can help us see what happened. Evidently, for Rembrandt, as for Martin Luther, "the Canaanite woman was a source of unending wonder and comfort."3
This dog of a woman—for so the Canaanites were thought of by the Jews, especially the Canaanite women—thisCanaanite dog was quite willing to play this part, to become a dog, literally down on all fours. Literally begging. Not only a Canaanite and a woman, but now also a dog! How low can a person sink? "Lord, help me," she cries. Then Jesus gives her the ultimate test: "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs," he tells her. "Yes, Lord," she answers, "yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table" (vv. 2627). That does it! That is the answer Jesus wants to hear. In the single place in scripture where Jesus seems to have changed his mind, he says, "'Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.' And her daughter was healed instantly" (v. 28).
This was nothing new in the ministry of Jesus. From the very beginning he'd been consistent and insistent that his message was directed to the spiritually poor, to the lowest of the low in heart, to emotional down-and-outers, to those knocked down on all fours, to those who were willing to crawl—to the dogs, in other words. And here she came, taking Jesus at his word, groveling and grateful for any little scrap that might fall from his table. She became a dog. And this was exactly the kind of humility Jesus was looking for. Now she was no longer a Canaanite, and certainly she was not a Jew. She was a new creature: she was now a disciple of Jesus—she was now a dog.
And so it is that the dog has become a traditional representation for faith in Christian symbolism. For instance, we're told that "the dog, because of his watchfulness and fidelity, has been accepted as the symbol of these virtues."4 And that "black-and-white dogs were sometimes used as symbols of the Dominicans (Domini canes, "dogs of the Lord") who wore black-and-white habits."5
In Christian teaching—Christian "dogma"—Christ is seen as the doorway to God, and the doorway to belief in Christ is understood as humility, the cross, the renunciation or letting go of whatever goals or ultimate concerns we have previously served and lived for. In this letting go, our hands and arms are stretched wide open, just as Christ's were as he hung on the cross. But whether we are emotionally stretched out to the breaking point or we metaphorically fall on all fours, as the Canaanite woman did, this infinitely low point of suffering is the necessary first step in becoming a real Christian. This is the first reason all real Christians are dogs. At the beginning of our journey, each one of us was knocked down to this doglike level of lowliness. It's precisely from this lowest of low points that Christ originally raised us up. It was at rock bottom that we finally found the rock-firm foundation that we needed. It's only out of these depths that real faith can be born—to humbly follow and cry after Jesus as "Lord!"
Excerpted from The Gospel According to Dogs by Robert L. Short Copyright © 2007 by Robert L. Short. Excerpted by permission.
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