Two words, just 10 characters, and I have given you a glimpse of who I am, your new pastor. Cave Canem. Anyone know what those two words mean? Anyone been brushing up on your Latin lately.
Cave Canem means Beware of Dog.
I saw those words and the picture of the dog in a mosaic in Pompeii–the town both destroyed and preserved by the volcano Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD. My husband Brad and I backpacked around Europe something in the year something like 2001 BC -that is BC– before children. We love to travel and learn, and we were able to walk around the streets of Pompeii, to look into the homes of families, to see paintings on the walls and the tiles on the floor, the picture of a dog, and read the words CAVE CANEM.
And I mean read those words, because in high school in addition to learning German, I had studied Latin. I love languages, learning new words. So,I took classical Greek in college, in seminary I enjoyed the 10 week class of Hebrew. I have dabbled in Spanish and at St. Paul’s, I picked up a few words and phrases in Lao. Words are wonderful to explore, learn, use and play with. The etymology, their origins fascinate me. And some words just sound fun–like facetious– mean funny. I like how words sound together and then there are those words that don’t go together–that disrupt, are dissonant, or discombobulate us–words that don’t belong, don’t fit, and shock us.
Like in today’s gospel reading, when Jesus calls the woman a name, calls her a dog. That’s just not right. I mean I love animals and all, and I really love dogs, I’ve hardly ever lived without one, but even I don’t want to be called a dog.
But that’s what Jesus does, he calls a woman, a mother who has come bent over and begging for a healing miracle for her little girl who is suffering at home sick and tormented, and Jesus calls this woman–this distressed and despairing mother and her suffering daughter little dogs. And just so we don’t try to sweeten it up. This little dog isn’t the cute little pet puppies we may have at home, who wear little sweaters, and appear in facebook videos. No we’re talking more like cur or mongrel. Dogs that hung around people, constantly prowling around digging into the garbage, counter surfing, scavenging and even stealing food–these were dogs to be wary of — Cave Canem – beware of dog.
Of course some people would like to make excuses for Jesus calling this woman a mongrel. Mark tells us that Jesus didn’t want people to find him. Jesus was stressed and tired, he needed a break. And of course, there’s always the issue that this woman being a Syro-phoenecian was a foreigner to him. And we know how easy it is to treat outsiders, foreigners, refugees, immigrants, minorities, people who are poor, or sick, or mentally ill–how easy it is to ignore them, how easy it is to disregard them, and well call them names.
But Jesus, I have two words for you — Cave Canem- beware of dog. See, this woman doesn’t turn, slink away. She takes his words, bites into them and holds on. Jesus, even the dogs under the table get the crumbs and eat. She is so determined to save her daughter, she is so tenacious to the hope of healing for her little girl. Even if Jesus can’t see it in that moment, she can almost taste and smell God’s promise of life for her daughter–like a dog with a bone–she will not be denied, she is fierce and she will not let go. And Jesus’ eyes are opened, he pays attention, and by the time the mother makes it home, her daughter is healed–recovering and resting on her little bed, because her mother had faith in, trusted God, wouldn’t let go of God.
The word for today, for us, and for the world, the word from this story is Cave Canem – beware, attend, pay attention to this un-named woman. She is our model for faith, because unlike county clerk Kim Davis who’s been in the news, who some see as an example of Christian fortitude–the woman in our gospel really gets it. She has to hold on to God’s love and promises and that they are not just for a few good folks, are not just for some, but for all (especially) for those who are hurting.
So world – Cave Canem – beware of those you would demean and denigrate. Beware of those you would discount. Because that’s not God’s way. The down and out are first. Church our job is to hold onto to this, to hold onto this story, to hold onto this scrappy woman, and hold onto the promise of life that God has for all of us. When it takes a drowned toddler washed up on the shore–we open our mouths and speak When there is someone sick and struggling we sit with them. We can no longer be timid or quiet. We can not shrink in fear. Let us be as fierce as this stranger foreign woman,let the world know that we hold onto God’s way. Cave Canem. Amen.