As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man's table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores. Luke 16:21 NLT
Dogs in the Biblical and rabbinic traditions are almost as unclean as pigs. Both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures are clear witnesses to this. Dogs are kept as guard dogs (Isaiah 56:10), never as pets. Only those who feed them dare approach them. A rich man needs such dogs because they are his “home security system.”
The story assumes that the guard dogs are fed the scraps Lazarus longs to eat (cf. Matthew 15:27). Lazarus goes hungry. The dogs are fed.
Yet, those wild guard dogs, whom no one but their handlers dare approach, realize that the weak, sick man by the gate is their friend. They lick his wounds. The saliva of a dog’s mouth is sterile.
The ancients discovered that when a dog licks a person’s sores or wounds, healing occurs more rapidly. Archeologists in Aschelon, Israel have recently uncovered a center where 1300 dogs are buried in individual plots. The site has been identified as a Phoenecian semi-religious center where the sick could go, pay a fee and have trained dogs lick their wounds as medical treatment.
In this parable the master refuses to help the poor sick man outside his gate – but his wild guard dogs will do what they can. They will lick his wounds. Their master will not help Lazarus. They will. Lazarus’ quiet gentle spirit breaks through their violent hostility to humans and they care for him knowing that he cares for them.