At the beginning of this year, I was living in a new concrete house next to neighbors living in a wooden one. There were 13 people living in their little house, and food was not an extra commodity. If you’ve ever seen life in a poor or developing country, you know that food is not something wasted too much. And just as the humans can degenerate into bad treatment, the animals get the brunt of it.
My neighbors had a black dong named Blackie. Blackie was a lot like all the other dogs in the neighborhood: scrawny and a bit wild, and accustomed to abuse. Fortunately, one of the Franciscan sisters treated her right and dropped off extra food for her whenever she would visit. Blackie couldn’t count too much on the family providing.
That’s all fine and good, but then I had to develop a relationship with Blackie. See, here, usually if a man gives any attention to a dog, it’s to scare the dog away, or even beat it. A man’s voice is a threatening thing to a dog. So, if I tried to invite Blackie with a welcoming call, or give her any attention at all, she would usually put her head down and fear and run away. I had to win Blackie’s trust.
In the first days, in the morning, I would place a piece of bread or two outside of my front door. Blackie would come and gobble it up. I realized that if I threw it near her, she would take that as hostile. So, I would place it on the ground. After the first few days, instead of putting the bread on the ground, one day I crouched in the doorway with the bread in my hand. Then, Blackie froze and entered into a visible interior struggle: stay away from the man-threat, or come to the bread and get threatened. I waited. After a few minutes of no action, I slowly withdrew the bread and hid it. At that, she took a hesitant step toward me, with licking chops, and so I slowly brought the bread back out. She slowly reached out and took it from my hand. I slowly stood up and walked away to leave her to eat in peace. I was thinking, “Finally, victory!”
The next day I opened the door and Blackie came. I crouched down with the bread in my hand and held it out. I was thinking, “this time she’ll just take it.” She didn’t. She froze again. I did the same take-away-then-bring-back-out, and she took the bread again. Then I realized, “This is going to take a while.” Uugghhhhh.
Bit by bit, Blackie began to trust me. She would often sleep outside my doorstep, and she would defend my property if stray dogs or other animals trespassed. And finally, after about a month, on my very last day in the house, just before I left, she let me touch her and pet her for the first time.
It takes a lot of patience and generosity and gentleness to overcome past wounds. To build trust.
When Jesus was walking in Galilee and Judah in his days, it was a time of oppression. The Romans had occupied, and their governors were not too friendly with Jewish interests. Roman soldiers could enlist any Jewish person into slave service whenever they wanted. And of course, there was crucifixion. And the religious leaders weren’t too much better. They charged people with taxes of all sorts to fund their temple building projects, including taking widows’ inheritances. They put strict religious rules on the people with heavy consequences, including stoning to death. People were accustomed to stepping on one another to survive and get ahead. And so Jesus had to build trust from scratch. He had to heal wounds.
That means a lot of patience and generosity and gentleness.
When Jesus preached, he preached in parables. That word parable needs a little explaining. It comes from Greek, and it means to cast next to. Like in fishing. And when people responded to the parables, then he would offer the goods one-on-one. Step by step, he built trust.
Jesus knows exactly what we have suffered in our lives. He knows our needs and our wounds, he knows what attracts each of us and what makes us run. And no matter how hard it’s been, or whatever we’ve suffered, he has a way to reach our hearts, to offer what we really need, to win our trust – with a lot of patience and generosity and gentleness.
All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable. (Mt 13:34)
So that on the last day, we finally will make contact.