Did you know the three-second memory span for goldfish is a myth?
As a youngster, I invested in a tank of bug-eyed goldfish after the loss of my faithful one-eyed Pekinese companion. That’s when “the boy and his inseparable dog” tried to become “the boy at one with his goldfish.”
Did I already mention that goldfish have a memory span of more than three seconds? What I found out after close contact with my furry family member is that those who lie down with dogs arise with fleas. Another discovery: My pet savored whatever I disliked on my plate—and I had quite the discriminating palate as a kid.
Jesus told the Syrophoenician woman, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Just as children are fed before pets, the children of Israel were entitled to the gospel first. In humility, the woman answered: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Jesus replied, “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter” (Mark 7:27–29).
“Dogs” was often a derogatory term in the Scriptures. The Pharisees would have viewed the beggar as unclean in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man because he was outside the gate with dogs (Luke 16:19–31). It was also easier for them to dehumanize beggars when they were placed on a par with dogs. But in this parable, the humans, superior to all creatures, fall down on the job, for it is the four-legged ones that tend to the beggar’s ulcerated sores, despite the two-legged creatures’ responsibility to do so.
According to G. K. Chesterton, “Man ought to be kind to the dog, …precisely because he has…a dignity and a duty that cannot be expected of the dog, far less of the wolf.” Thus, if human nature obligates us to assist those suffering in any way, would it not apply to both man and beast alike? To the overworked and mistreated,
the underfed and hungry, the lost and forgotten?
This season we’re mindful that the Son of God was born in a stable and laid in the clean straw of an animal’s feeding trough. When we display the camels, donkey, ox, and lamb in our Nativity scenes, recall how they give glory to God in their own way. As Tertullian wrote, “Every creature prays; the beasts, domestic and wild, bend their knees, and as they go forth from their stables and caves they look up to heaven with no idle gaze. Even the birds, upon rising in the morning, mount into the sky and stretch out their wings as a cross in place of hands and say something which might seem to be a prayer.”
When Christmas becomes a memory and our three-second attention span moves on to other matters, let us remember the dignity and duty that make us human.