I first wrote this reflection in the beginning of December- I had been thinking a lot about dogs lately, probably because our old boy, Okie, was showing signs of his age and I had prepared myself for the worst when we finally took him to the vet. It was after that visit when, miracle of miracles we were told he would be with us awhile longer- only arthritis, that pesky aging of the joints that comes with years of use. After that appointment I penned the following, feeling relief that soon turned to disappointment and grief. It was a misdiagnosis, not arthritis after all, but rather a degenerative neurological disease that German Shepherds are particularly prone to. We said good bye to Okie a week later, setting him free to run in eternal green pastures.
But it got me thinking about dogs. More specifically, it set me to wondering if Jesus had a dog. This is a question posed once- or perhaps more than once- by beloved professor and pastor Heather Murray Elkins. I remember she concluded in a sermon once that, yes, of course, Jesus must have had a dog- but I can’t remember how she arrived at that conclusion.
So I’ll do my own musing.
I’d like to think that Jesus had a dog. Even though there are no mentions of a canine companion in any of the four canonical gospels, I think Jesus was the kind of person who must have had a dog.
Surely there was at least one dog in the stable in Bethlehem. Perhaps a big, woolly sheepdog who accompanied the shepherds, whose very presence brought added warmth and comfort that night. Or maybe a smaller herding dog, like Fyfe or Pink or Finch, who sat alert with ears perked and head cocked, taking in the sights and smells while waiting with barely contained energy for their next command. Yes, I think there must have been a dog in Bethlehem.
Surely there was a dog who trotted alongside him as he walked the shores of Galilee. Who nosed the nets of fishermen, licking salt brined bits of bait from outstretched fingers. Who never strayed too far, yet had the freedom to roam, a sharp whistle bringing them back to the Master’s side. Maybe it was the dog that helped James and John let down their guard to follow the stranger that said, “Follow me.” You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat their dog- yes, I think there must have been a dog by the sea.
Surely there was a dog among the lost, the last, and the least. A dog among the crowds of those who pressed against one another to get to the Healer, each one needing or wanting something only he could give. Maybe there was a dog like Maui, a young street dog who was terrified of the world, except when shown love by one person. Perhaps Jesus knelt down and simply held out his hand, waiting as he first shied away snarling, but then relaxed upon seeing there was nothing to be afraid of, finally dropping the tough facade to come forward for a pat on the head.
Or maybe Jesus had an old dog, a dog with lumps and bumps who had been left behind. If the Good Shepherd would go in search of a wayward lamb then surely he would also carry an arthritic dog across his shoulders to bring him Home. A dog like Okie, who wants nothing more than to lay at your feet and be given crumbs from the table. Yes, there must have been a dog among the least, the last, and the lost.
Surely there was a dog who kept watch, a sentinel, as Jesus went off to a quiet place to pray. A dog like A.C., who quietly guarded the ones he loved, there with a gentle lick when needed, a formidable force of nature. Loyal, steadfast, and true.
This, then, is the problem, the bone to chew on.
Because if Jesus had a dog we couldn’t have had the passion. If Jesus had a dog he would not have been alone in the garden. No need to command A.C. to stay awake, watch, and pray as he the disciples. The dog would have sat guard all night, eyes unblinking, until morning came.
There’s no way Jesus could have been taken, not if he had a dog like Davi, who would have thrown his body between the soldiers and his Master, teeth bared in the torchlight, hackles bristling, ready to lay down his life for his friend. Knowing he had to die, Jesus couldn’t have had a dog- you can’t explain crucifixion and resurrection to a dog who would wait outside Herod’s gate, and at the foot of the cross, and outside the tomb for as long as it took for the Master to return.
Jesus couldn’t do that to a dog.
So he must have contented himself to give pets and belly rubs to other people’s dogs before heading out on the road.
I don’t think Jesus had a dog- but I’m sure he loved them.