When I went out the other morning to pick up our paper, a shadow suddenly lurched to its feet. It was a dog. A strange dog, whom I had never seen before. A rather mangy, moulting, black Labrador cross.
I guess she had spent the night there, lying at the side of our driveway.
I tried to get close to her. She backed away. She was terrified. Her tail was tucked so far between her legs that it looked glued to her belly.
I could see a collar around her neck, and a dog tag hanging from it. But she wouldn’t let me come near enough to read the number so that I could trace her owner.
She was still there a couple of hours later.
I assumed she had probably not had anything to drink for a while. So I took out a bucket of water. She backed away from me, baring her teeth. But she knew what the bucket held. Even so, she wouldn’t take a drink until I moved back. Then, her belly almost on the ground, she crept forward and started slurping.
As I watched her, a phrase about “a cup of cold water” came to mind. I looked it up. It comes from the gospel attributed to Matthew. “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones … I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
From there, I turned to what’s called the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, also in Matthew. In the parable, Jesus divided people into two groups. The “sheep” had nursed the sick, clothed the naked, fed the hungry, and visited those in prison. The “goats” had not.
The parable deals with practical actions. There’s nothing in it for those who restrict their faith to spiritual matters.
As practical as giving a drink of water to the thirsty.
Basically, both parables tell us to treat others with kindness. Not just important people. Also the unimportant, the overlooked, the undervalued, the unemployed… In short, anyone and everyone.
And then comes the kicker. Jesus told his hearers, “As you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me.”
Does “the least of these” include stray dogs?
I gave the dog a drink of cold water. I admit that I had an ulterior motive. I wanted to get her to trust me enough to let me get hold of that collar and read the dog tag. I didn’t succeed.
But I did treat her kindly.
I would have offered her a meal, if she had stayed around. But she didn’t. She wandered off during the afternoon. I thought she might merely have found some secluded spot, some shady hideaway from the heat of the day. So I put out some food for her that evening anyway, in case she came back.
I suspect the raccoons got it, though. Because she never came back.
I wonder what happened to her.
Wherever she went, I hope she encountered kindness.
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author of 17 books and several thousand magazine and newspaper articles. He welcomes comments; firstname.lastname@example.org.