Americans spent an all-time high of $55.7 billion on their pets in last year and spending will creep close to $60 billion this year, if all goes the way of the industry trends.1 Much of that spending is on dogs, who are also the usual stars of our annual Blessing of the Animals (early plug – October 5). But as much as we love our dogs, we don’t usually like being called a dog.
“Wondering how man’s best friend became the worst invective? Well, early on, the term ‘dog’ was used for fallen people, because mutts were viewed as low on moral integrity, eating flesh, defecating, urinating and mating with no inhibitions. Humans, phew! They neither forgive nor forget. In 17th-century New England, to call someone a dog was an insult of the highest order, as dogs were believed to be used by sorceresses to carry out evil commands. Little wonder then, that the term is still reserved for traitors and other contemptibles.
“Take the Filipinos, for instance. When in the Philippines, don’t go calling the waiter with your finger, because there, a curled, beckoning forefinger means you’re calling someone a dog — an offence for which you could get arrested and have your finger broken.
“Remember Mick, the cop from the hit TV series Hill Street (Blues), who addressed loathsome felons as “dog breath”? Wonder who goes smelling dog breath to come up with such terms! The canine reference has been made for many an American. Translated from German, Devil Dogs was a term used by Germans to scorn the US Marines during World War II. And, no prizes for guessing what abuse the Iraqi reporter hurled at George W Bush along with his shoe.”2
And yet today we hear “Lord, help me,” only to hear Jesus respond, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” As Fr. Patrick Gray said, “Now you’d think that would be enough to drive her away. Most people don’t like being compared to dogs, no matter what era they come from. Even in our age, when dogs sometimes have better health insurance than their owners, the owners more often than not would not think highly of a comparison to dogs. And yet this woman acknowledged it. She accepted the designation, she acknowledged the arrangement. But even in the arrangement, dogs hope for scraps. And she said as much. “Yes Lord,” she said, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Even though the dogs aren’t at the table, aren’t welcomed to the table, they share, at least a little bit, in its bounty. And even though the Messiah had come for Israel, Israel was the promise-bearing people, promises given for the whole world, and it was Israel’s Messiah that would ultimately bring blessing to the whole world, to Jew and to Gentile. So this Gentile woman was, in a sense, happy to be a dog, to be the one under the table, because the scraps from the table were the same that were given to the children.”3
And yet, we still get a little twisted by the dog thing. But let’s note again that that is our problem, not our Canaanite heroine’s. In that way she is bigger than us, more faithful than us; she knows that being called a puppy by the Son of the Living God might be the best moment of her life and more than any of us could ever hope for. She knows who Jesus is, and because she knows who Jesus is, she knows that in Jesus’ chosen metaphor, that the children will never run out of bread, that living Bread that satisfies even the soul. “Even a crumb’s worth of healing from Jesus” would “mean the world to her”4 and to her sick child, crumbs that taste of that heavenly banquet our Lord has prepared for those who love Him.
We are, in many ways, heirs of this woman as much as we are heirs of the other woman we celebrated this week, our Blessed Mother. Both believed before seeing, both were saved from dire circumstances, both saw the Lord come to her people, Jew and Gentile. Both knew that we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under the Lord’s table, but that He is the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy, that same mercy that feeds all that come to Him.
3The Rev. Patrick T. Gray, at the Advent, http://theadventboston.org/sermons/pg081708.htm
4Responsible Parents, The Living Church, 8/17/14, pg 42.