Genesis 9:8-15 / 1 Peter 33:18-22 / Mark 1:12-15
We have already begun the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, and today is the 1st Sunday of Lent. But with the CNY beginning on Friday and spilling into the weekend, the Year of the Dog is barking with festive celebrations instead of fasting and penance.
Anyway we have already done our fasting on Wednesday, so we can do with a bit of feasting (more than a bit …)
By now we should know that according to the Chinese zodiac, the New Year has ushered in the Year of the Dog. So for those who born in the Year of the Dog, and for dog-lovers, let us see what the Bible has to say about dogs.
Dogs are frequently mentioned both in the Old and New Testaments. Dogs were used by the Hebrews as watchdogs for their houses (Isaiah 56:10), and for guarding their flocks of sheep (Job 30:1). These are domesticated dogs.
But there were also then, as there are now, packs of semi-wild and wild dogs that wander about devouring dead animals and even dead bodies. So these kinds of dogs were considered unclean and they can be quite fierce.
In one gospel passage about the exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, the word "dogs" are used.
In response to her pleas to drive off the devil from her daughter, He answered by saying, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (Mt 15:26) In this instance Jesus was referring to the wild dogs.
But the woman replied, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." (Mt 15:27) Her reference was to the domesticated dogs or the pet dogs. And with that Jesus granted her wish.
So in the Bible, there are generally two categories of dogs - the wild dogs, and the domesticated pet dogs which at times are considered “a man’s best friend”.
In the gospel, we heard that the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and He remained there for 40 days and was tempted by the devil. He was with the wild beasts and the angels looked after Him.
So during those 40 days in the wilderness of the desert, Jesus faced two dangers. One was the temptations of the devil and that challenged Him in the spiritual realm, as to test whether He will stand firm on the side of God or not.
The other danger was on the physical realm. With the wild beasts roaming around and maybe among them were some wild savage dogs, would He succumb to fear and run off to safety and give up His mission?
The temptations from the devil were subtle. In the other gospels, we hear of those temptations: turn stones to bread, to jump off the parapet of the Temple, to bow down to Satan. The depths of the Heart of Jesus was tested to see where He stood and who He was.
But while the temptations of the devil were subtle, the danger from the wild animals was real, because they can cause harm and injury.
St. Teresa of Avila once said: “I do not fear the devil. But I do fear his agents.” In other words, those agents of the devil are to be reckoned with because they are the physical weapons of the devil.
When sin entered the world, sin turned the world into a wild world. The peace of the Garden of Eden was broken and so were the relationships between God and man, and man and nature.
Jesus went into the wilderness to restore the brokenness and to reconcile man with God and man with nature. He fought off the devil’s temptations. He faced the wild animals, not to fight them but to tame them. And if there were any wild and savage dogs among them, then Jesus would also want to tame them and turn them into pet dogs.
It is said that when properly trained, a dog can be a man’s best friend. Now, listen to this twist: when properly trained, a man can be a dog’s best friend.
And indeed, the season of Lent is a season of grace and the Good News is that through repentance, this wild world can be made into the Kingdom of God.
The spiritual exercises of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are to help us to go back to the spiritual basics and to train us in the ways of God.
And here the humble pet dog can also show us a few things. (It is said that God loves dogs. Because “dog” is “God” spelled backwards. Maybe that’s why God is using the dog to show us a few things about life)
So what can the dog show us? For us who have pet dogs, we can immediately understand this:
1. Loyalty – a dog is naturally born with a sense of loyalty for its owner, and each dog displays this loyalty in its own unique way. And that reminds us that we are made to be faithful and loyal to God who is our Creator.
2. Compassion – no matter how sad or upset you are, a dog always knows how to give you love and comfort. It reminds us that God’s compassion for us is boundless.
3. Unconditional love – a dog loves with no strings attached. If that can be said of a dog, then what can we say about God’s love for us, especially when we look at the cross.
4. Selflessness – a dog's first focus is to provide you with its joy and it is not vain or selfish. If you show it love and kindness, it will be your ultimate selfless companion. But it also reminds us of what we are called to be for others.
5. Forgiveness – we humans have a hard time forgiving each other, we hold on to hurt and anger forever, but not a dog. He will forgive you for anything you do to him, even if you take it out on him. That is something we can learn from a dog.
Come to think of it, we are much more than dogs, because we are much more in the eyes of God.
Yet the humble dog can show us something of who we truly are. Of course we are not called to be like a dog, on the contrary, we are called to be like God.
And God will send His angels to help us just like how the angels looked after Jesus in the wilderness of the desert. Most angels have wings, but some may choose to have fur.
So if you have a pet dog, then may you be the person that your dog thinks you are.
If we don’t have a pet-dog, there is no need to go and get one. But let us remember many of the qualities that come so easily to a well-trained dog – loyalty, devotion, selflessness, love – seems to be so elusive to humans.
A well-trained dog can be a man’s best friend. But similarly a well-trained man can be a dog’s best friend. And a well-trained man can also be God’s best friend.
So let us go with Jesus into the spiritual wilderness and be trained by Him with prayer, fasting and almsgiving to fight temptation and to bring peace to a wild world.