The Dog Days of Summer
By some calendars, we're coming to the end of the Dog Days (Browser's Dict., 110). By others, we've been out of them since August 12 (Knock on Wood, 64). All agree the Romans first named the Dog Days. They called them this because the Dog Star, Sirius, rises with the sun, and they believed this brightest observable star added its heat to the sun's. There's widespread belief that it's an unhealthy time of year. Legends say flies increase, dogs go mad, and snakes go blind (Ibid.). I've not experienced any of this, but the Beck Bible says our text takes place the Summer of 29 A.D. (21), and the dogs certainly stand out today.
Well, in the words of the 2000 song, "Who let the dogs out?" Jesus did. His presence in this pagan region does it. Aside from His flight to Egypt as a Baby, this is the only time Jesus left Palestine. The Greek shows the relationship to Jesus coming here and the woman coming out. It says, "After coming out of there Jesus withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon, and behold a Canaanite woman from that region after coming out was crying out" to the Lord. Not just the parallel "coming outs" show a connection, but "behold a Canaanite woman" does. The insert doesn't translate the behold' that's there in Greek. But what's so special about a "Canaanite" woman in the Land of Canaan? Nothing, this behold' "makes us look" as they say for something extraordinary to happen.
The presence of this woman who is ignored by Jesus as one might a yapping dog, brings out disciples who act like Jesus' masters. They come up close to Jesus, and the Greek says they repeatedly asked, implored, requested Him to send her away. The word used for their repeated asking, however, is not the one for an inferior asking a superior but the one for asking an equal (Trench, 144-5). And notice they don't address him as, "Lord" and they don't really ask. They command Him, "You must send her away." But they don't mean that Jesus just get rid of her. They want Him to help her as they've seen Him do every other time someone has called on Him. You can tell this is what they mean and Jesus knows it because of His answer, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."
Who let the dogs out? Jesus does. His presence here brings a doggedness out of this mother. The insert says she says that her "daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." Here we picture her thrashing and howling, drooling, and shouting. Maybe not. You could translate the mother saying that her daughter is basely demonized. She could be living with and in a sin taking her down a path that even this pagan woman can recognize as base, bad, debauched. She's tried all she can to reach her, but nothing. So even when Jesus doesn't answer her a word; doesn't even turn and look at her; even when Jesus says I wasn't sent to you at all, she goes around in front of him and kneels. This word translated by the Insert knelt' is translated other places as worshipped.' If you're calling a person Lord and asking Him to deliver someone from a demon, you're coming to Him in worship.
Don't you kind of feel disoriented in this Dog Days of a text? Is this the Jesus who says, "The one who comes to Me I will in no way cast out" (Jn. 6:37)? Is this the Jesus who says "Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt. 11:28). What's Jesus doing here? Putting on a Dog and Pony Show? A Dog and Pony Show is defined as "an often elaborate public relations or sales presentation; also: an elaborate or overblown affair or event" ("www.merriam-webster. com/dictionary/dog%20and%20pony%20 show. Accessed 24 Aug. 2020.). Is this all just theater? Is Jesus putting on a show in a pagan land? How else do you explain saying to a worshipping mother praying for her demonized daughter, "Helping you would be like helping a dog at the expense of one's own children"?
The part of a text that stands out - like last week Mark telling us Jesus walking on water "meant to pass by' the tormented disciples - is often key to it. Go home and read the Road to Emmaus account. Look at Luke 24:28. There you'll find Jesus intends to go on and leave them to eat without Him. Or read the last part of Matthew 28. There you'll find the disciples believing and doubting at the same time. The English translations obscure these points because they are difficult. But when left sticking out, they point out the issue. Here Jesus isn't putting a Dog and Pony Show. He is teaching, and the woman gets that. Jesus puts His Word out there and this woman, dog-like, goes and fetches it, and in catching it, she cateches Him.
Again, you'll have to search through English translations, but Jesus doesn't use the ordinary word for dog', ku'-on, but the diminutive of that word, ku-na'-re-on. Kittle, the definitive Greek dictionary, makes this distinction. The ordinary word is for the despised dog of the streets or yard regarded as despicable and insolent. The diminutive is house dog' as distinct from yard dog' or street dog' (III, 1104). Some translate little dogs' a few even have puppies.' The woman takes Jesus at His word. She confesses what He says to be true. She is a dog. We do the same: Or do you think when we confess to be poor, miserable sinners, we really mean not that bad of sinners? Or only bad here and there? Do you think we're claiming we have a right to this Table? No, in fact, we're saying the direct opposite. We have no right to His Body and Blood. It was our sins that caused Him to suffer, bleed, and die on the cross. It was our sins that caused Him to be beaten beyond recognition by men, and to be damned to the deepest hell by His Father for an eternity of pain.
This Canaanite worshipping at the feet of Jesus doesn't think He's just putting on a Dog and Pony Show. She takes Him at His Word. He says, "You're a little dog," She says, "Lord I am." He says, "It's not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their little dogs." See where she's going to fetch Jesus from? Jesus says that the little dogs belong to the children. He says "their dogs." And she takes Him up on that point: "Yes Lord, but even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their lords' table." Yes, she actually says lords' not masters'. She has consistently called Jesus her Lord. She is claiming to be a little dog under His table. A dog's master, let alone Lord, is not just in charge of his dog, but responsible for it's care, feeding, shelter.
It was a heart wrenching story in January 2016 when a man at McKinney Falls State Park drowned trying to save his dog who had fallen into the water (https://www.fox7austin.com/news/man-drowned-trying-to-save-dog-at-mckinney-falls)? How much more touching when the Lord of all Creation jumps into the Sin, the Death, the Devils clawing at you, swirling around you, holding you under till you give up, give in, and drown forever? But Jesus didn't see you accidently slip as the man's dog did. He saw you jump headlong into living as you pleased. He heard you say, "I'll do it my way" as you jumped. And still He went in after you. He came all the way down to your flesh and blood to reach you, to pull you out of not just drowning but damning.
Don't stay in the swirling deathtrap that Sin and Devil have you trapped in. Jesus still claims to be your Lord and Master, dog that you are. And he offers you a dog's life. "It's a Dog's Life" is a 1955 movie by Disney. It's about a dog who goes from glory, to wretchedness, and back to glory when he's adopted by an affluent family. In other words, it's the human story found in the Bible. We start out in glory, in Paradise with our Lord. We fall into wretchedness and are kicked out of Paradise. Then God in Christ comes to fulfill the Law we can't, die the damned death we deserve, and adopt us as His own beloved sons.
It's a dog's life and that's all this Canaanite woman wants. She is content to be a little dog under the table of her Lord because she knows what you do. No, child lets the dogs under his table go unfed. She says, "Even the dogs eat from the crumbs that are always falling from their lords' table." I think you can put "falling" in quotes, don't you? No matter how many times you tell kids, "Don't feed the dog from the table", they do. They stop overtly throwing or handing the dog something to eat, but, "Oops that fell off my plate."
Yes, Lord evermore give me the crumbs from Thy table. You do realize that just a crumb of forgiveness from Jesus sends away all your sins? You do realize that a crumb from the One who is the Resurrection and the Life is more life than anyone can possibly imagine? You do realize that just a crumb from His table is more powerful than the food the angel fed Elijah? If in the strength of that food, Elijah was able to travel 40 days and 40 nights to God's mountain, a crumb from the Table of Jesus enables repentant, believing sinners to travel all the way to Heaven.
The Didache which dates to the time right after Easter applies Jesus' words Mt. 7:6, "Give not what is holy to the dogs" to the Eucharist (Elert, First Four Centuries, 77). This is the basis for Closed Communion and for the pastor, performing his office as a steward of the Mysteries of God by admitting some and not others. A 16th century painter, Paolo Veronese, was charged with sacrilege by the Catholic Church for putting a drunkard and dog in his painting Last Supper. He was ordered to change the painting, but all he did was rename it to Christ in the House of Levi. Here were tax collectors and sinners heeding Jesus' call to repent and believe the Gospel. Only Pharisees and scribes take issue with dogs who forsake their sins but not their doggedness being at their Lord's Table.
The woman in our text keeps the focus where it belongs: on her Lord and His Word. The word "Lord" begins and ends the last thing she says to Jesus. "Yes, Lord, even puppies eat the crumbs falling from their Lords' table." That's a dog's life isn't it? First and last a dog's life revolves around his Master, Lord. Even in the Dog Days, what dog with a loving master has ever been disappointed, in need, or abandoned? Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20200830);