Sunday, May 04, 2008

Why the dogs licked Lazarus' sores: more thoughts on Luke 16

Luke 16.19-21 is one of those passages that is best not discussed over dinner. (Believe me, I tried tonight. My wife wasn't happy when I shared my thoughts as she ate a salad).

But here's the text: "There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores."

Traditionally, we read this, and see the contrast: the rich man so rich he's wear royal (purple) clothing, with Lazarus so poor that he's a beggar outside the rich man's gates, so poor that dogs lick his sores.

All of which is true. However, there's another theme that may be going on here. As I've mentioned in other spots, dogs are not exactly well-spoken of in the Bible. Specifically, they are used as a metaphor for unbelievers and gentiles. (Note Matt. 7.6, Matt. 15.26-27, Mark 7.27-28, among many other texts).

So while this pericope is saying that Lazarus is so low that he's surrounded by unbelievers, there's another theme here.

Dogs -- and many other animals -- have antiseptic qualities in their saliva. (Human saliva does not).

So while the dogs would probably enjoy the activity, the one being licked might benefit in such a situation, too.

Which means that part of the meaning of the text is that while Lazarus is ill-treated by the rich man, the dogs (= "gentiles") show a kindness to him.

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