The phrase, “dog in a manger” comes from an ancient Greek fable about a dog lying in the food trough, growling and warning off the cattle who would feed on the grain, though the dog had no use for it. It refers to a person who can’t or won’t use something himself, but spitefully withholds it from someone else.
“I don’t want it, and you can’t have it.” The ungodly actions and attitudes of professed Christians can be a deterrent to the sharing of the gospel. Their hypocrisy makes all of us look bad, and deters others from making their own examination of the claims of Jesus Christ. Example: While courting the votes of the far-right conservative Christians, often called Evangelicals, Donald Trump kissed up to the conservative political action committees, to fundamentalist groups and institutions like Liberty University, Values Voters, Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, and others. He said he was pro-life, though it was only a position held for the duration of the election season, and he claimed to be born again--though day after day after day, there were new words of hate and filth and lies. Surely you remember the jeering about evangelical Christians. And the divide between actual evangelical Christians and the Republican evangelicals who can't separate their religion and their party.
Here’s an unexpected one: preachers, teachers, and authors who use complicated theological concepts, “isms,” and multi-syllabic labels to explain what God has made clear and easily understood by children and Down Syndrome people: God loves us, and has moved heaven and earth because he wants to save us.
Jesus had harsh words for religious leaders and teachers who have made following God’s lead unappealing, too harsh, too difficult to understand, legalistic, judgmental, and too full of restrictions. “Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.” Matt. 23:13
Dog in a manger!
The apostle Paul wrote about those people. “But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.” Romans 1:18-23
Jesus could have come as a king, president, senator, priest, minister, university professor, Nobel scientist, or anything else but the baby in a blue-collar laborer’s family, born in a cave that sheltered travelers’ beasts of burden. And maybe even their shepherd dogs or guard dogs.
But no. He came as a dependent newborn, as harmless as a kitten. Babies are inoffensive, and they have no history for us to blame or resent. They represent hope and potential, growth and a future. This baby came to GIVE.
If there was a dog in the manger of Bethlehem, perhaps it looked something like this: a homeless dog who just needed a safe place with no kicks and blows and curses, a soft place to rest from the strain of living on garbage in harsh weather. A dog who would come in from the cold for sanctuary.
Are you that dog in a manger? Are you looking for the basic simplicity of home, and love, rest, security, and sanctuary?
Jesus says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matt. 11:28-30