Rags to Riches
Listen to audio:
“Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27).
When God instructed Noah to lead the animals into the ark, His purpose in doing so was to “keep them alive with you” (Genesis 6:19 NAS). The directions are specific in the numbers of animals, two for the “unclean,” and seven (or, “seven seven”) for the clean birds and animals (possible sacrifices). So the Lord looked after the clean and unclean animals, including the dogs.
Historical Relationship with Dogs — the “Rags”
In our Lord’s day, dogs appear to have lived for the most part as outcasts. As a result of their status, the term “dog” became an insult used by Jews to describe anyone who was considered impure for ceremonial duties. This, of course, would include anyone outside the Jewish nation. While God wanted His people to keep separate from other nations (non-Jews), due to their tendency to stray and worship other gods and idols, they took His command to another level, considering the Gentiles as beneath them. This led the Jews to refer to others in a bigoted way, calling them “dogs.” Even some non-Jewish nations do not allow dogs in public places, and they are banned thus as “unclean,” even to this day. As quoted from The Guardian, “According to Islamic custom, dogs are unclean.”1
(1) “Iran: threat of lashes or fine for walking the dog,” The Guardian, November 2014.
An interesting fact about Jewish Law is found in Wikipedia, and provides sound advice, perhaps worthy of our emulation. “In Judaism, Jewish law does not prohibit keeping dogs and other pets. Jewish law requires Jews to feed their dogs before themselves, and make arrangements for feeding them before first obtaining them” (“Dog,” Wikipedia).
The Canaanite woman requested Jesus’ mercy and healing for her demon-possessed daughter. In the record of the event, we see Jesus’ firm desire to obey his Father’s will in preaching only to the Jews, God’s chosen people. We also see the general opinion at that time of the Jewish nation demonstrated towards others. Were it not for knowing our Lord’s loving heart towards all, we might think that his response towards the woman was callous and uncaring.
Matthew 15:21-28 (NAS), “And Jesus went … into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed. But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came to him and kept asking him, saying, Send her away, for she is shouting out after us. But he answered and said, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But she came and began to bow down before him, saying, Lord, help me! And he answered and said, It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. But she said, Yes Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which all from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said to her, O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.”
Jesus’ discourse to the woman was not only for her hearing, but also to serve as a lesson to his disciples after they would receive the holy Spirit. They would then be able to discern the import of the woman’s precious example of faith, even though she was a mere Gentile “dog.” That lesson would help them get rid of their former pre-spiritual and bigoted attitudes, so they would be able to accept Gentiles into the faith.
We wonder how many times the disciples and apostles, after they were baptized with the holy Spirit, thought about the attitude of the people and leaders of their nation in calling the Gentiles “dogs.” But, those “dogs” had become their spiritual brethren! How proud and arrogant God’s chosen people had become — and what a humbling experience that must have been! The very people they had called dogs would eventually become God’s people alongside the Jews.
The Beginning of Riches for the Gentiles
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man represents Israel, who had God’s favor. Because of their “clean” condition, they could partake and be fed daily with God’s spiritual nourishment. This left nothing for non-Jews. The “crumbs that fell from their master’s table,” would be what remained for the Gentiles, the so-called “dogs” that licked the wounds of Lazarus (representing the Gentiles who were ready for the Word of God). The Gentiles were bereft of the spiritual nourishment needed for entering the narrow way. Certainly many Gentiles, like Cornelius, seemed ready for the Word when the Gospel was opened to all! (Acts 10).
Riches for All
In American culture our relationship with domesticated dogs has changed greatly since Noah’s time, as well as since Jesus’ First Advent. Dogs help mankind in a variety of ways today. Because they can detect odors in one part per trillion, they are able to help scientists detect diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Dogs are useful to mankind in many other ways also, such as helping shepherds herd sheep, guarding homes as watch dogs, and helping the handicapped as service dogs (such as seeing eye dogs). Dogs are perhaps the most popular pet, and are even called man’s best friend.
As we consider these things, perhaps with the family dog on our lap, let us remember how, just like actual dogs, the Gentiles were once considered unclean outcasts by the Jews. And let us also remember that Gentiles have equal access to the narrow way and are running the race for the mark of the prize of the high calling, side by side with Jewish converts (see Hebrews 12:1, 1 Corinthians 9:24). How loving and understanding we need to be towards those who yearn to be fed with the precious hope we now are so very blessed to have! What a great privilege we have to feed them now, when possible, and certainly later, in Christs’ kingdom! Praise God for giving us the foresight of His plan to bless all humanity!