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Cowbird Mafia




Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” ~ John 2:19


Brown-headed Cowbirds are equally admirable and despicable. As brood parasites they have evolved a remarkable ability to perpetuate their species by leaving their eggs in the nests of other species for them to raise. As distasteful as that behavior might be, it is unfair to blame them for the way they are hardwired. But when even the scientific literature uses the word mafia to describe a behavior, it is clear that judgment is involved. The behavior being described is the practice of, well, taking revenge on birds that have the audacity to reject the cowbird egg from their nest. Cowbirds have been observed not only destroying the nest of the offending bird, but even regularly destroying the replacement nest. If we could translate birdsong, we could imagine a cowbird saying “It would be a shame if something were to happen to this nest…”


Prothonotary Warblers are often victims of brood parasitism from cowbirds. Their typical response is to abandon the nest and start over. You might think they are simply inviting a visit from the Cowbird Mafia, but they seem to avoid that due to a very simple fact, timing. By the time a Prothonotary Warbler builds a second nest, it is so late in the season that cowbirds have simply quit laying eggs. Likely they are busy gathering their newly fledged offspring from their forced foster homes. Whatever the case, patience is the Prothonotary Warblers’ path to success.


Jesus’ claim to rebuild the temple in three days is clearly a symbolic foreshadowing of his resurrection, but in it I hear a “we will outlast you” boast similar to the small persistent warbler’s standing up to the cowbird mafia. Like an unwelcome egg in the nest, Jesus threw out those who had become parasites in the holy home, unscrupulous merchants preying on the poor. But rather than accept the fate of being forced to host and nurture the unholy, Jesus proclaims that there is a better option, starting over. History shows that we are still trying to get it right, but we can surely take hope in divine insistence that we have a spiritual home not built by human hands.


Prayer: Mother God, too many of us have been bullied in our earthly spiritual homes. Thank you for gathering us under your wing in the eternal spiritual nest right now, right where we are. Amen.


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