Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? Yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's knowledge. --The Gospel according to Matthew.
You may recall the Book of Jonah is a statement both of God's firm nature and his great compassion for his creatures. God has threatened to destroy the great city of Nineveh because of their wicked ways. He gives them one chance to repent, however. Jonah the prophet is told to go to Nineveh and tell them to repent or be destroyed. Jonah refuses, more or less saying he wants God to destroy those bastards and that if Jonah tells them to repent, they will. God will spare them. In Jonah's world, that's not the outcome he wants. He wants wrath of God.
So Jonah runs away. Heads for the coast. Boards a ship bound for who knows where. God sends a storm, and the ship is nearly crushed beneath the waves. Seeing the sailors about to perish, Jonah tells them that God seeks him for failing to fulfill God's command, and to throw him overboard. They do. Jonah is then swallowed by a whale, and remains there for three days in the belly. Then the whale spits him back onto the land. Jonah, seeing no escape, not even death, goes to Nineveh and does as he's told.
Jonah boldly preaches repentance, and just as he feared, the people repent. They go about dejectedly in sackcloth and ashes. And God spares them. Jonah then flees to the desert, furious. Jonah rails against God. This is what I what I didn't want to happen — you would be merciful to them, and they deserved destruction. So Jonah sat down and stewed. The sun came out and started to burn Jonah's head. God sent a tree, which grew up in a day and shaded Jonah from the sun. Jonah liked the tree, and was pretty happy about it. He was starting to calm down and unclench his fists. He was starting to get over it.
The next day, a worm came and destroyed the tree, killing it and leaving Jonah once again scorching in the sun. Jonah became furious, sorry that the tree was gone. And God said, is it right for you to be angry about the tree? You didn't create that tree, which grew and died in a day and a night.
And the Lord said the quotation that started this entry: Shouldn't I just just as concerned about the people, and the animals, of Nineveh? The implication, of course, that Jonah didn't make them, either, and so shouldn't be wishing for their destruction.
A Jewish friend of mine told me this story, in similar language, one day after I compared the wrathful God of the Old Testament to the loving God of the New Testament. I admitted it was a powerful story of God's love. I've always been thankful he told me that story. Funny how someone's highlighting a passage can make it more relevant to one's life.
The Matthew quote is from an instructional speech Jesus gives to his disciples when he tells them to go preach to the people.
Jesus is CEO here and he's setting up the mission, warning the disciples of potential dangers, and encouraging them with a powerful message of God's love. Life on earth is in a state of flux, with many born and many dying every day of every species, and not one thing passes from His divine notice, not one thing does not register in the mind of God.
I chose these two passages because they are two that concern animals. Readers of this blog know that a good friend of mine, a cocker spaniel, has been very sick. His illness has hurt more than I thought--perhaps because of the vicious nature of the cancer from which Patrick suffers, and partially because a dog that has always displayed a reckless, admirable courage has been laid low. I don't want to be sentimental about a dog, but I don't want to be frigid, either. Patrick has shown a lot of strength during his illness. Not miraculous courage, but regular, daily courage. He's looked scared at times, but at others he's done what he can to try to make himself comfortable. In a way, I'm proud of him.
Everyone thinks their dog is a "good boy," I've read tales about Rainbow Bridge, an afterlife meadow where apparently pets that are loved wait for their owners, so they can cross into the next life together. It's a pleasant thought and I wouldn't take that from anyone. But too much fantasizing stunts emotional growth. It infantilizes us. And in doing so, it prevents us from really getting at the key issue here: life and death.
The sun has arisen about 5,000,000,000 over planet earth so far: do we get 1 to 36,500 sunrises and that's it? It's a lot and you can waste quite a few until one day before you know it you're down to two or three. And then you realize how precious is a drink of cool water, or a warm fire on a cold night, or on a clear night the honor of seeing the sky arrayed in stars, or even walking down the stairs without your knees aching. Then it's all precious and leads to wonder about God.
In our faith, not a lot is said about animals and pets. There was a donkey who gave a his rider a hard time. A few sheep by the shepherds. The whale, and the animals of Nineveh. And then Jesus says all life is counted and numbered and in the mind of God and He knows what happens to all. Even the sparrows. Even, thus, the dogs?
And so we have Patrick, the sick cocker spaniel, coming to the end of his sunrises. He is ready to go. Animals leave their pack when sick and go off to die, and that's what Patrick has been trying to do the last few nights — quietly die on the winter grass. He goes outside to sleep on the ground. I think that he must get some comfort there, because he keeps wanting to go outside and stay, no matter how late and no matter how low the temperature drops. So it's time.
As you might be able to tell, I don't know what to do except turn to faith at a time like this. God knows Patrick. God knows what will happen to Patrick. And God's plan for Patrick, whatever it is, will come to completion soon. We have assurance of God's love, of God's knowledge and of God's compassion. That is all we mortals, humans and cocker spaniels, get this side of paradise. That will have to be good enough for the time being, as we wait in joyful hope for Christ's return.
I'll write another post after Patrick goes. Pax.