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Compassion Addiction

Which of these three, in your opinion, was the neighbor to the traveler who fell in with the robbers?” The answer came, “The one who showed compassion.” Jesus replied, “Then go and do the same.”~ Luke 10:36-37

Brown-headed Cowbirds are nest parasites. That means that a female cowbird spies on the birds nesting in the area and leaves one of her eggs among the eggs of the unsuspecting host. Some species are alert to the trick and will respond. Some will remove the foreign egg. Others will abandon the nest altogether and start over. Since the cowbird nestling will often be the largest and most demanding bird in the nest, any plan to avoid having to care for and feed that one is generally a good idea. It could even be a matter of life and death. Often the cowbird nestling will demand so much care that some of its fellow nestlings don’t survive, sometimes because the larger cowbird simply pushes them out of the nest. Some smaller species have even been observed exhausting themselves so much in the care of the intruder that the adult doesn’t survive.

It is easy to hate on cowbirds. Of course, they would have a lesser impact on the populations of other birds if humans hadn’t intervened. They are called cowbirds because they do like to associate with livestock. Before European settlers created farms with domesticated animals, the cattle that cowbirds associated with were the roaming bison of the plains. That meant that if a bird had an extra egg in their nest this season, they wouldn’t have to contend with the problem the next season because the bison, and thus the cowbirds, would have moved on to other pastures. Now the cowbirds stay put and wreak havoc on the locals.

But rather than dwell on the negative, consider the nobility of the host species. Every bird species is hard-wired to work tirelessly to put food in the gaping mouths chirping at them from the nest. Their dedication to the survival of their young is beyond question. When they see an open beak, they cannot not put food in it. That sort of dedication is literally divine. God is described in scripture as incapable of ignoring the cries of humanity, not just the laments of God’s chosen people, but even the sworn enemies of those people. One metaphor used is that of a nursing mother whose milk begins to flow at the cry of not only her baby, but any baby.

The Good Samaritan shows that sort of dedication. He cannot not help someone who is injured and possibly dying. Jesus was asked “who is my neighbor?” but answered with a parable about what it means to be a neighbor, because there is no one, not even a cowbird, who is not our neighbor.

Prayer: Mother God, no one is not nurtured by you. May we learn to always care for others with a compassion worthy of siblings. Amen.


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