Last Monday it was my 54th birthday. I can’t say that I enjoyed the day because it was also they day that we euthanized our dog Max. This was the hardest decision we have ever made. Perhaps I am lucky, but big decisions have always been easy until this one.
Marrying Libba? That was a no-brainer. The miracle is that she wanted to marry me. Kids, jobs – these were not hard decisions. Looking back, I put too little prayer and thought into the jobs I have taken. You often won’t get God’s counsel if you don’t take the time to listen.
But letting go of my dog, my friend, my family member; that was a long and painful process. Prayer helped, but prayer did not stop the tears. In the end, we knew that it was selfish of us to make her endure pain and starvation as her 18-year-old body gave out. I have had pets, cats and dogs, throughout my life. There was something different, special about our dog Max and I’ll tell you a little bit more about her in a minute.
But this is not a devotion meant to bring you down, this is a celebration of the example God gave us in the life of Jesus, and how if we open our eyes, we can see that example in the lives of the people and even pets that we love.
These are the words of Matthew 22: 34-4034 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
We are all familiar with this passage, but applying what we know from this is a lifelong struggle, one that I too often fail. What does it mean to love the Lord? What does it mean to love your neighbor? Rather than try to answer these questions directly, I’d like to look to the life of Jesus to talk about three of his traits; anger, love of learning, and caring for others. And I’ll tell stories about how even a dog can teach us, by example, these traits.
Anger is a dangerous emotion. It can destroy. Yet Jesus showed anger in clearing the Temple of the moneychangers. Was he doing this because he hated the moneychangers? No, throughout his life as told by the Gospels, he showed love to sinners. But this practice was an affront to God, and worse, this could lead the people away from an understanding of God. Jesus called the Pharisees vipers – hardly a complement. But this too had a purpose, not to hurt the Pharisees but to show them that their religious practices were separating people from God rather than showing a love for God.
So how in the world can a dog remind us of Jesus’ use of anger? Max never truly got angry, but in a very few cases, she did display a ferocity. Max was a friend to all people and animals. She loved cats. But on a couple of occasions she chased cats from our yard, barking and showing her teeth. These cats had attacked our cats and she would not allow our cats to be hurt. After the attacking cats were out of the yard, she immediately trotted back to the house and displayed no more aggression.
How long did Jesus hold on to his anger? How long do you?
Jesus was fully human. It is hard for me to really understand all that means. Jesus was a carpenter. From the parables we know that he knew something about fishing and farming. And of course, he knew and interpreted the scriptures. For me to accept that Jesus was fully human, I can’t imagine that he was born with this complete knowledge, because learning is a very human trait. My belief is that he was born with a thirst for knowledge, a thirst that we see in many children. The fully human Jesus was a sponge, soaking up the lessons that life presented him.
Our dog Max was unusual. We never house trained Max, or taught her commands. She just knew what to do – sometimes doing what you wanted her to do even before you called out a command to her. She was a learning dog. When she got very old, she lost her hearing, but then started to respond to hand gestures. This too we did not teach.
Are you a learner? Do you thirst for knowledge? What lesson have you learned today that brings you closer to God?
Jesus cared for others. This is obvious in all that he did, even in how he displayed his anger. Jesus loved sinners. He showed kindness. He healed. He fed. He showed us a better way and he gave us a way out. He is our intercessor.
Max was a loving friend to every person and animal. She never met another dog she did not like. More surprisingly, she also never met a cat or any other type of animal that she did not want to make friends with. She always tolerated the sometimes-clumsy petting that she got from small kids and never tried to bite even when someone would get a little too rough with her. She never tried to bite, even when protecting her cat family members.
Do you try to bite? How do you show your love? Jesus gave us two laws on which all of the laws are based. Then he gave us his life, by example and through the cross to demonstrate application of those laws. We humans fall short, but if you look around, you can see glimpses of Jesus, in the love shown by others, in the things they do, in the things they find important to learn. And yes, you can even see examples on four legs. God has surrounded us with lessons. We just need to see them to learn them.