Birds of a Feather


The Pharisees saw this and complained to the disciples, saying, “What reason can the Teacher have for eating with tax collectors and sinners?”  Overhearing the remark, Jesus said, “People who are in good health don’t need a doctor; sick people do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire compassion, not sacrifices.’ I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” ~Matthew 9:11-13


Birds of a feather do indeed flock together. That is, outside of the breeding season, when they are typically very defensive of their territory. Though like all rules, there are exceptions. Some birds, as diverse as Purple Martins and Great Blue Herons, nest in colonies. They have learned that there is safety in numbers as long as you can manage sharing the local resources. Now you might occasionally find a Great Horned Owl nesting in a heron colony, but that is only due to occupying an old nest prior to the others arriving, and the fact that they are there to feast on nestlings does not make them a welcome neighbor.


On the other hand, there are islands just off-shore in Maine which host not one, but multiple colonies of seabirds. If you have gone on a cruise to see the undeniably adorable Atlantic Puffin, you’ve seen one of these islands, and hopefully noticed that they are the only species present. Other species that spend all their time on the water when not on the nest take advantage of these isolated rocky outcroppings for rearing their young. You might see Razorbills, Murres, and terns present. Aside from the predatory tendencies of terns and gulls, all the birds tend to get along swimmingly. At Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge, a Red-billed Tropicbird, 2000 miles north of its normal range, has been welcomed to the neighborhood for nearly two decades (well, he is more welcome now that he has stopped trying to court the Arctic Terns).


Likely, the toleration was learned over time through trial and error, but it does provide a model for us humans. Jesus intentionally went to places where others thought he shouldn’t. It is interesting that he was more welcome in the neighborhood he chose than the neighborhood he was born to. Like the birds that nest alone, there is a cost to defending a territorial claim when our view is scarcity. But when we acknowledge that we are all just trying to get along with what’s available we just might see that there is actually an abundance (if we can learn to define that as “enough for all”).


Prayer: Bountiful God, keep us from the flawed logic that we need to sacrifice in order to keep what we have in the midst of mis-perceived scarcity. Remind us of the abundance of your compassion that we have received and need to share. Amen.


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