Chaucer wrote: ‘It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake.’ (‘Troylus and Crisedye,’ 1374). By the time the saying got to Dickens in David Copperfield it was, “Let sleeping dogs lie.” By the time it got to Pennsylvania in 2010 it was something of a way of life. “Whatever you do, don’t cause a conflict. Organize your life around avoiding anything that might even be taken as having an objection.”
This attitude kinds of messes up the redemption project, don’t you think? — since being connected to Jesus (even if you don’t say anything about it!), if some people just know about it, will be something that causes conflict. So some Christians I know are even more determined to be as unobtrusive as possible, lest they “turn someone off,” or more likely just violate the family credo, “Let sleeping dogs lie” – “Never risk a bite…It is mean to kick…You can’t tell if that dog is nice or mean so just don’t have a relationship at all and call that being nice to dogs.”
But this brings me to the other dog proverb that comes from the super-short Greek fable: “There was a dog lying in a manger who did not eat the grain but who nevertheless prevented the horse from being able to eat anything either.” This comes from Lucian way back in the 2nd Century and has been popular ever since. About the same time, a version came up in the colorful, but wisely rejected, Gospel of Thomas, attributing the thought to Jesus: “Woe to the Pharisees, for they are like a dog sleeping in the manger of oxen, for neither does he eat nor does he let the oxen eat.” It’s kind of similar to Matthew 23.13: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces; you do not enter yourselves, nor will you let others enter.”
If you are a Jesus-follower committed to letting sleeping dogs lie, you are like a dog in the manger. You have the spiritual food people need to eat, but you are so committed to not forcing it down their throats that you let them starve. In essence, you won’t even eat it yourself, because it might cause you problems if it really became part of your metabolism and made you like Jesus, dusting it up with Pharisees!
If you are following all this dog metaphor, I hope you are getting that we’d all be better off if we kicked a sleeping dog for Jesus (in a Jesus-like way, of course). Most of the people we know are not peacefully sleeping, they are in a spiritual coma and they need to be awakened. Worse, they have very likely taken an overdose of nonsense and if we don’t get them awake and keep them awake, they might die.
Of course, the same dire circumstance awaits believers who don’t get involved with the dogs (as Jesus even seemed reluctant to do!). We could end up being sleeping dogs in the manger! Sometimes I think that is exactly what we are like. It is not that we are trying to keep people away from our spiritual food. We’re like well-fed dogs bedded down in our little nests, oblivious to the world. Or if we are not well-fed and bedded, we are at least nested – likely to have this week go by and not one sleeping dog kicked, including ourselves.