Behold! A picture of my mother-in-law and a vulture. Which is which? My mother-in-law is the one wearing the hat!
She is a keen bird-watcher, or ornithologist to give it its proper name. And so was Jesus. Don’t believe me? Have a look at this passage:
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:26 NIV11)
Jesus told us to “look” at the birds. What kind of “look” is involved? It’s much more than a casual glance. The greek word – emblepsate – is in the imperative, meaning it’s a strong command. The word is defined as, “to look attentively, gaze earnestly, at an object; to look searchingly or significantly”. This ancient kind of “looking” fits well with the modern image of the “twitcher”. A twitcher is the kind of ornithologist who, hearing about the sighting of an unusual bird, drops everything, grabs their binoculars, jumps into their car and drives hundreds of miles motivated by even the slimmest possibility of catching a fleeting glimpse of the rare bird.
So why is Jesus commanding us to gaze earnestly at birds? Because it’s an antidote to worry. He has commanded us, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” (Matthew 6:25 NIV11). Yes, “Do not worry” is also in the imperative. That’s a command too. But how can we obey this command to not worry? It’s simple – look at the birds, gaze at them, be attentive in your looking. Why? Because God feeds them.
I imagine Jesus looking up to the skies as he said this, pointing to one of the huge flocks of birds that migrate through Israel. Indeed, around 500 million birds fly though Israel twice a year (see this link for the migratory patterns and a lovely video). Some flocks of cranes can number up to 85,000 birds. Jesus is reminding us that these birds are fed, and they do not worry. Neither should we. We don’t need to worry because we are “much more valuable than they” (Matthew 6.26 NIV11).
Is God calling us to passivity? Not at all. As Luther famously put it, “God provides food for the birds, but he does not drop it into their beaks.” We are to work for our food, but we are not to worry for it. Indeed, more significantly, we are to pray for it. Earlier in this chapter Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11 NIV11). They key here is that the prayer is for enough bread for today. Worry is most often about the potential tomorrow. But that’s not yet arrived, so why not focus on today – and pray.
The main point? Worry will not help you, rather it will cause spiritual amnesia, causing us to forget our true value to God. So instead of living in the world of worry, go outside, look up and gaze at the birds. Go on, I dare you, be an ornithologist for a day. I’m off to borrow my wife’s binoculars.
I hope you have a wonderful week. God bless.