As the Gospel of Joseph of Arimathea says, the boy Jesus was befriended by a dingy yellow dog with a black muzzle.
They played together in the fields around Nazareth and among the wood chips of Joseph's carpentry shop.
Sometimes Jesus walked ahead tooting on a reed pipe, and the dog danced behind him on its hind legs.
Other times, the dog led the way, barking and leaping in the dazzle of summer wheat.
As Jesus carved little sparrows out of wood and tossed them into the air to fly off in a whir of wings and to nest among the green willows, his dog's tongue lolled out in astonishment.
This mutt was the first to reach a boy Jesus had thrown from a roof, licking his face sorrowfully until Jesus came down and raised the dead boy up alive again.
It is not known if Jesus gave the dog a name. Perhaps he called it "dog," or "friend," or "beloved," or "thou scamp."
As the years passed and the miracles intensified, Jesus' dog spent more time lying in the shade, panting in the furnace-heat of Judea.
Then, shortly after Jesus turned thirteen, one morning he called his mutt -- to no answer. The dog was lying under the stove, and wouldn't get up.
Jesus spoke to it low in sad murmurs, trying to feed it milk from a spoon. The dog's eyes rolled to look upon him lovingly, but he would not eat.
That night, the dog shut his eyes, licked Jesus' hand, and breathed out his last shuddering breath.
Jesus wept.
He sat weeping by the dog's body on its blanket laid under the stove all night, and would not be comforted by his father or mother nor by any of his brothers.
In the morning he took the dog out wrapped in his best blue wool cloak, and buried it under a pile of stones in the desert.
After this, they say, he began going to the Temple to dispute the elders. People found him harsh, and said sorrow had embittered his heart and hardened his gentle speech.
And later that year, he disappeared completely, and was nowhere in the village or near it to be found.
His mother and father felt sure he was not dead, but had merely gone off about his great Father's business, as he'd so often threatened. Yet they wondered.
It is said by some that in the following dark years Jesus walked the Silk Road as far as India or even the empire of Cathay.
Others say he lived in a cave in the elemental wilderness and ate wild honey and locusts.
But nobody knows for sure.
What is known is that one day he walked down to the river Jordan, a full grown and handsome man, and asked the Baptist John for a river baptism.
And a white dove of unearthly radiance lit down on his head, and John was sore amazed.
"This is my son," cried a voice from nowhere, "in whom I am well pleased."
After that, Jesus gathered students from the lake shores and the workshops and even from the haunts of beggars and the wine-houses and brothels.
He treated the poor and the diseased with great tenderness but his retorts for the powerful and smug stung the ear like nettles.
And one day he whipped the money lenders out of the temple in Jerusalem and overturned the sellers' wares.
After that stunt, Jesus was a marked man. To arrest him, the merest excuse, complaint or trifle would suffice.
It was about that time that a dingy yellow dog with a black muzzle appeared, and began to follow Jesus around in the dust made by the crowds gathered to hear him speak.
Preaching a sermon on a mountain top, Jesus noticed the dog and had trouble finishing his words.
After the crowd dispersed, he sat with the mutt in his lap petting it tenderly, and the dog licked the flowing tears from his face.
"This is my dog," he is reported to have said. "In whom I am well pleased."
From that day on they never parted, until the terrifying night in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The centurions who came to arrest Jesus were struck sore afraid of this beast which faced them with a lowered head, all its fur standing up straight as it growled and gnashed its teeth.
Until Jesus spoke it quiet. As he next calmed that sword-wielding hothead Peter, who went on to deny him thrice before cockcrow.
Whipped through the streets of Jerusalem the next day hauling a pine crossbeam, Jesus stayed quiet and showed little pain.
The dog followed Jesus like a shadow, slinking along a wall and stepping over pieces of ordure and filth to be near.
Not taking its eyes from the man who was now the spat-upon image of all men, and of all women, too.
As Jesus hung on the cross, the dog's incessant yelps and wails troubled the ears of many and caused some spectators who'd climbed Golgotha for the show to break down and weep inconsolably.
Mary and her sister Martha also wept, as Joseph of Arimathea knelt by with his bald head bowed in reluctant grief, but it was the dog's anguishing cries that people would always remember.
They took Jesus down after he'd breathed his last wracking breath and washed his body and wrapped it in a piece of white linen.
Then they laid him to sleep in a nearby tomb, and rolled a big stone across the entrance.
All the time the dog stood by, shaking that shaggy yellow head and letting out howls.
When they left the tomb at moonrise the dog wouldn't go away with them, but sat down before it, ears and eyes all alert.
The next morning the dog was still there, sitting with his intense gaze fixed on the stone blocking the tomb's entrance.
As if he could see through it to the man inside, and was waiting for the man to perform one simple act.
He would not take anything to eat, nor drink even a single drop of water. The women who stroked his furry head also dampened it with their tears.
And at sunrise on the third day, lo, the women who came to mourn found the dog gone, and the stone rolled away from the door. And the tomb itself was empty.
They found only the piece of white linen stained with Jesus' blood, and on it the haunting image of a crucified criminal.
Some of Jesus' friends claim they saw him on the road or in private houses in the days or nights following.
They say he spoke to them, comforted them, even let them touch his wounds.
Others say they never saw the man himself again, though all would wish they had, but that they definitely heard his dog's voice sound out loud and clear on those late spring evenings blue with the cooking smoke of Jerusalem.
It sounded like the dingy mutt was somewhere up in the hills above the city, at play in fields of wildflowers and letting out the most wild and joyful barks.

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