26th of the Year, 25 Sep 22
There was once a good Christian couple who wanted to buy a dog. And being a good Christian couple they wanted a good Christian dog. So, of course, they went to the pet shop and asked if they had a good Christian dog. The owner scratched his head and thought and realised he had just the right animal. The good Christian couple wanted to make sure and so asked the dog to sniff around and find a Bible. The good Christian dog sniffed round and did indeed find a Bible and took it to the couple. “This is good,” they thought and were impressed. “Let’s test it a bit more,” they thought and so asked the dog to turn to Psalm 23. The dog barked and used his paws to turn to the right page. “Wow, this is really impressive,” and so the good Christian couple decided to buy the good Christian dog. The next day, the good Christian couple had some friends visiting and they wanted to show off their dog. He sniffed and brought a couple of the Bible, opened it up and found Psalm 23 and everyone was impressed. The visitors were impressed and asked if the dog could do normal dog tricks too. The good Christian couple invited them to try. So the visitors said, “Ok. Hell, dog, heel.” At which point the dog, hearing the call to heal, stood on its hind legs and put one paw on the visitors and started praying for healing.
Yes, we’ve just heard a rare mention of a dog, in the Gospel we’ve just heard proclaimed. Jesus does mention dogs elsewhere, where He reminds us of the sanctity of the message we have been given: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine,” (St Matthew 7:6). Dogs are not seen as particularly pleasant presumably in part because they’re not thinking of poodles who would win at Crufts but ungroomed hounds who eat all sorts of not very nice bits of food. Indeed one woman builds on this analogy when Jesus observes that He is sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She replies, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table,” (St Matthew 15:27).
We may see dogs on the statues of two saints, namely St Dominic and St Roc. For St Dominic it’s a bit of a play on his name which sounds like Domini canis, or “The Lord’s Dog.” Dogs protect sheep from wolves, which is very appropriate for the great preaching of St Dominic. In the life of St Roc, he had been helping plague victims and eventually contracted the deadly disease himself. He went off to recuperate and during his period of isolation a dog brought him food and helped him by licking his wounds.
Let me give you three observations about this parable. First, the terrible state Lazarus is in, which the dog draws to our attention. (Note this isn’t the Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead on another occasion, whose sisters were Mary and Martha). Here Lazarus is a poor man, lying by a gate with sores, a pitiful state. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now, I’m no doctor but I’m not sure that would have helped them heal very much. We can presume this means Lazarus is not strong enough to keep the dog away. He is helpless, though ironically the name Lazarus comes from the Hebrew meaning ‘God will help.’
Secondly, that help comes in eternal life, as revealed in the parable, where the fortunes of the two are reversed. Yes, this is another sign of what Heaven is like, similar to the great proclamation of the Kingdom by Mary, the Mother of God, in the Magnificat: “He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly. He fills the starving with good things,” (St Luke 1:52). Lazarus is transported to the bosom of Abraham, our father in faith, the just man and from whom a great nation is forged with many descendants, the children of the promise made to him by God. As in this world, rich and poor can see each other’s lot. The Rich man - known in the tradition of the Church as ‘Dives’ from the Latin for ‘rich man’ - he wants his sufferings eased by the dipping of a finger in water to cool his tongue. This is not the only place where life after death without Heaven is said to involve suffering, think also of the image of grinding of teeth deployed by the Lord (St Matthew 13:42).
Thirdly, we’re shown how even the wicked look after their own in that Dives wants someone to warn his five brothers. It’s a reminder of what our Lord teaches us elsewhere, that if we save our greetings for those whom we love we are no better than the Pharisees (St Matthew 5:46-48). The radical love of God, for us while we were still sinners, emptying Himself and coming to earth for us, enduring the Cross for our sake, all this points us to a life which cannot simply be content with being nice to those whom we like and indifferent about everyone else.
Now, all this talk of dogs does not mean I’m going to announce a pet service for next week. Such things indeed are an absurdity and show a contempt for God because one of the amazing things about the worship we as God’s people are called to offer God is that no thing else can do it. Yes, at one level we praise God by doing in our every day lives what we are called to do and this must be true of plants and animals too. So, daffodils give glory to God by having bright leaves in springtime; dogs give glory to God by having shiny coats and barking; babies give glory to God by saying “Dada” and “Mama;” we give glory to God by sweeping floors and driving buses and cooking food and so on.
However, there is a unique privilege we have been given of worshipping God. Nowhere does God require this same worship of other bits of creation: it is a unique part of our calling. When the people of God in the book of Exodus seek freedom from Pharaoh’s control it is freedom so as to worship which they desire: they have been enslaved by work and the pressures placed upon them by the powerful and they realise this is diminishing, impoverishing and stifling their being created in the image of God. To worship is to freely offer ourselves to God who made the world and who sent His Son to die for us on the Cross. Nothing else is as important.
When God makes everything He gives us power and responsibility to be stewards of the world: Adam names the animal, we are invited to eat from the goods of the earth and to multiply ourselves. We recall that vocation as we celebrate Harvest Festival today. One way in which we are good stewards of creation is to bring out the sacramental role of created things. One thing that separates us from other religions is that we believe Jesus was 100% God and 100% Man, God took upon Himself human flesh and chose this way as the only way to save a fallen humanity. And because God has dwelt among, because we have seen His glory full of grace and truth, the world has this wonderful role to play of being used to communicate God’s heavenly presence.
And so there needs to be bread and wine in the world so Christians can celebrate Mass, the proclamation of Christ’s Death and Resurrection (I Corinthians 11:26). There needs to be enough water so that baptisms can happen. There needs to plenty of oil so that the anointing can happen of the seriously sick, of new priests and bishops and the newly confirmed. When we plant trees we don’t just think of homes for birds and oxygen production, but we consider the role of the tree in the disobedience of the first human beings who took forbidden fruit and even more crucially of how this sin and all sin was atoned for on the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world. Through taking sinful human flesh upon Himself, Christ atones for the sins of the world. Through using these simple elements of a broken creation, the redemption known in the coming kingdom of joy and truth is proclaimed.
When Dives the rich man longs to have the Good News proclaimed to those left behind we are reminded of the painful consequences of not listening to God. One way we hear the message of God is through the proclamation creation makes of who made it: “The heavens are telling the glory of God,” the Psalmist proclaims (Psalm 19:1). We look after the world so people can discover God who made everything through observing the world and its beauty and its bounty. We also look after the world so that its spiritual fruit can be brought forth, not because it’s good for us to hug trees or because we can be saved just by enjoying watchings birds go tweet tweet, but because the Sacraments through which God gives us spiritual graces come from the created order of bread, wine, water, oil and wood. Let’s not foolishly think the earth is just about feeding our bodies but appreciate through the grace of the Church the strength we receive spiritually through receiving from its bounty.