There wasn’t much left when my grandfather walked down to feed his greyhounds that cool, fall morning. In fact, the dogs weren’t even that hungry; it turns out they’d already gathered for a midnight feast. One of their brothers, who’d shared the same womb, suckled milk from the same teats, grown from puppy to full grown dog with them—he’d tried to jump over the wire fence during the night. But he didn’t quite make it. One of his back legs got caught on the wire. And there he hung, suspended upside down, helpless, no doubt whimpering and barking miserably. His brothers awoke from their sleep. They walked over to where he hung. They smelled him. Perhaps even licked him. Began to growl. To nip. Then to bite. And soon the pack began the frenzy, the ripping, the feast on their own flesh and blood. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. So we say. And we like to pretend we’re just using an exaggerated figure of speech. But the parable bleeds over into the literal. We cringe to hear stories like my grandfather’s. We’re sickened by scenes like that one from “Django Unchained,” when the master sets loose his hounds upon the runaway slave. But, chances are, we’ve been both the devourers and the devoured. One of our comrades at school, at church, perhaps even from our own family, violates some taboo. We hear about it. We talk about it. We begin to make jokes about it. We growl, We nip. We choose our biting words. And the frenzied feast begins. I’ve seen it happen in the church, when a pastor is ripped to shreds by his brothers in the ministry. I’ve seen it happen in families, when the black sheep returns home to find himself surrounded by wolves in sibling’s clothing. I have both been devoured, and I have devoured. I have bite marks on my soul, and the flesh of my brother is still caught between my fangs. And you? You too?
We didn’t gradually devolve into this. Did you ever stop to contemplate the fact that one of the first recorded sins in the Bible is the murder of a brother by his brother? There was no slow, steady slippage into the pit of hate. We plummeted, fell head first. When the Lord spied the bloodthirsty gaze in the eyes of Cain, He warned him that “sin is crouching at the door,” (Gen 4:7). I like this translation better: “at the door, sin makes its lair.” Oh, Cain, your father Adam named the beasts; do not let them name you. Do not become that dog. Do not…do not…but he did. Cain growled. He nipped at Abel. He bit. And soon the voice of his brother’s blood was crying out from the ground.
And still it cries. It echoes through the cornfields of Iowa where a father has refused to speak to his homosexual son for the last two decades because he hates the queer life that son leads. Its cries echo through phone lines and online discussion groups and private emails where the reputations of men and women are sliced and diced by the razor-sharp tongues of the tsk-tsking pious who can’t believe so-and-so did such-and-such. The blood of Abel and Susan and Dan and Cindy and countless others for whom Christ died—their blood cries out for pity and mercy and vengeance and, yes, even forgiveness, while Cains continue to redden their dog-like tongues at the feast that knows no end.
Oh dear God, when will it end? It will only end in repentance. I repent. I have devoured. I have eaten my own brother. Will you not repent with me? Will you not look in the mirror with me and see the bloody froth that still stains our mouths? Rather than defending our brother, we have devoured him. Rather than helping him off that fence where he hangs, we have set up a kitchen table beneath him.
Where shall we go? To whom shall we turn to help us? Come with me to where the dogs gathered around a different kind of man. He is poured out like water and all his bones are out of joint. His heart is like wax; it is melted within him. His strength is dried up like a potsherd and his tongue sticks to his jaws. And dogs, dogs, have encompassed him. Their teeth pierce his hands and feet. They stare, they gloat over him. And the one who hangs there cries, “Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!” (Ps 22:20). But he is not there to be rescued. His life is handed over to the power of the dogs. They rip his soul to shreds. Drain his blood. Watch him die. Howl over his corpse.
But this is a different kind of death. Indeed, no other death has died like this death died. For in this death life was born. In this shed blood, blood was transfused into us. In this body broken, our bodies were restored. In this scene of hatred, the love of God was showered down upon us. The lamb was devoured by wolves to change those wolves into lambs. Christ was given over into death, that in his death we might come to life in him. He became Abel that his blood might cry out from the ground, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He became that homosexual son, that black sheep, that prodigal brother. And he became that hard-hearted father, and those tsk-tsking pious frauds, and those back-stabbing haters. He became both the devoured and the devouring, sinner and sinned-against. He became all of us, humanity squeezed into one man, that he might become all the bad we are and give us all the good he is.
In this dog-eat-dog world, we witness a dog-eat-God kind of salvation. The dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table, says the Canaanite woman to Jesus (Matt 15:27). Little did she know that she underestimated. For in Christ, the dogs eat the master that falls from the table. He gives himself into death. He is devoured by sinners, by sin, that we might become as he is. Oh the depth of the riches and the wisdom of God, that he is willing to become our food, that in eating him we might dine on the very forgiveness and salvation he wants us to have.
The grace of God is a strange and beautiful thing. A God who hangs over a cosmopolitan pen of sinful dogs to be killed, that in that killing he might give us life.
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!