The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Parish Eucharist      9th September 2018
A doggy tale - the Syro-Phoenician Woman
Andrew Penny

Mark 7:24-30. A Doggy Tale
I had spent the morning on her bed; she had had a bad night, tormented by her demon. I could sense it, creeping up to her and planting alarming thoughts in her mind. I growled at it but it took no notice. She tossed about, as the thoughts became nightmares so frightening she shrieked aloud.

I try to stay at the end of her bed, and when not dodging the kicks, I look as if I am asleep, but I am not; I am watching. I lie still and try to be a calm steady presence and occasionally I nuzzle up to her to give her sweaty hand a lick, just to reassure her that I am there and there is trust and love in the world (and because I like the saltiness)

After the exertions of the night, she at last fell into deeper untroubled sleep and I thought it safe to go for a walk, to check out the garden for any new smells and see what was coming along the road. That was when I first saw Him walking a little wearily but purposefully like one needing but also looking forward to a holiday. We live by the seaside, so this is not so unusual. He was among a group of ten or twelve men and a few women. They were having some heated discussion, but He was apart from it. They were on the road from Galilee and their dress suggested they were Jewish, so I assumed they would not be staying in our village, as they can be funny in wanting to keep themselves apart. And they can be unfriendly to the likes of me too, so I observed from a distance at first.

He was different, however; he was tired and looked as if he might even be tired of life. I was wrong about that, as you will hear, but anyway, I thought I could try to cheer him up with a bit of tail wagging. And he did smile, a bit cautiously perhaps, but then put his hand down and I licked it and he tickled me behind the ears which I always like. As I expected the group around him either recoiled or tried to shoo me away. I can usually tell what human beings are thinking and I think he appreciated my trust and my gesture; I saw enormous kindness in his eyes but a sternness too. As for the others, I gave them the slightest snarl, just enough to let them know who was the boss around here. He smiled at that. Obviously a man who recognised authority. I don't know how or why it came to me, but I thought, just possibly, this man might be able to do something for my mistress' daughter whom I'd left in bed. It was not just his kind eyes and his smile that seemed to tell me this, but the authority and power that was behind them. So I trotted off in front of them and lead them to the better of the two inns in the village (that is, the one that lets me in to tidy up under the tables).

I had to tell my mistress about this man, so I went straight home and found her. She must have had some presentiment about this Jewish visitor as she followed me very readily to the inn. As we got to the door, her courage began to fail her. The group he which was with wanted to shoo her away too. She was afraid and all the more desperate for him to help her daughter. I gave her a "trust me" look, the slightest baring of those incisors for the sentries, took a tug at her dress and we slipped in.

He spotted me first and smiled again, a little quizzically, so I gave him a "look what I have brought for you" grin and he looked up at my mistress. To my surprise, he was not altogether welcoming. His weary look returned. "Don't I get a moment's peace even here on a break from home?" he seemed to say and the men around him were more vociferously off putting. I thought it best to disappear under the table. The school nearby had an arrangement with the inn for the children to have their lunch there. They had just left, and I knew there would be nice crumbs on the floor under the infants' table.

Meanwhile, my mistress' cool reception had only made her more desperate and she was on her knees and nearly in tears. I could see that was not going to work; I could sense the embarrassment among the group around Him and it was only increasing their hostility. He said something about food under the table which make me prick up my ears. I thought, "I have got my mistress into this fix, I must get her out." She needed to calm down and simply trust in His power to help.

So I gave a little yap, and she turned to look at me. I put all my effort into looking totally devoted and trusting, as if nothing could shift my confidence and my determination to achieve what I hoped for.

It did work; the feeling transferred to her and she became suddenly calmer and stronger, confident in her own trust. She pointed at me and said something about dogs under tables; it made Him laugh but he was quickly serious again and his expression showed again that life giving, powerful kindness which I'd experienced on the road earlier. He took her by the hand (sending a shiver through the others) and was it was obvious that he said that all was now well. She didn’t say thank you but her look was all gratitude and hope fulfilled.

The mistress and I hurried home, and found all was indeed well; the girl was sitting up, her face free from care, relaxed and beautiful in its normality. She was as a little girl should be. As you can imagine, there was much hugging and kissing and on my part, much yapping and tail wagging and rubbing of my tummy.

Reflecting later, it seemed to me that we dogs have quite a lot to teach human beings, not with words nor even so much with looks and gestures, although they certainly help, but mostly by just by living love and steady devotion, just by being confidence and hope- with, of course, just a little doggy wit and cunning occasionally.

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