I stepped out into the quiet of the early morning, the sun hidden behind a dense fog that had settled low and covered the tops of the buildings around me. The temperature was cool – but not too cool – just right for a peaceful walk through the University of Texas’ campus on that Sunday morning. And, within three seconds, that peace was immediately shattered by the cries of the grackles in the oak tree that stretched out above me.
These birds are loud and annoying, they congregate in large flocks, and they poop so much! Dubbed the ‘unofficial bird’ of Austin, they even have their own Yelp reviews (“…grackles suck and they’re a bunch of noisy, messy bullies” or “great in theory, but in practice…are more problematic that other trash birds”). People either think they’re fun and adorable in their own way, or people want them eliminated from the face of the earth. I fall into the latter group and think the world would be better without these loud and annoying flocks.
I walked under that broad-branched oak tree that morning, drips landing on my shirt and, as I wondered whether it was rain or bird poop, I longed for the small, quiet birds: hummingbirds, robins, chickadees, finches, sparrows. Those birds that sing beautiful songs, or quiet songs, or that don’t sing at all but eat the annoying mosquitoes and gnats. Those birds that build amazing nests and show off their fantastic plumage and break the monotony of the landscape. I prefer those birds that I enjoy most and bring me happiness.
As I went about my walk that morning with the grackles shattering the peace and quiet I had hoped for, my mind drifted to that passage in Matthew 10, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs on your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (v 29-31, NRSV).
With a cry from the grackle above me (seriously – they make so much noise), I somehow hoped that Jesus intentionally chose to use a sparrow in this allegory for a reason. I hoped that Jesus was saying “God loves the quiet, peaceful, beautiful and beautifully-singing birds.” I also hoped that, in Jesus supposedly saying this, he was also saying, “God doesn’t love the loud, the brash, the bully, the annoying – like the grackle. God actually forgets about them!” Honestly, I’d rest peacefully knowing that my time in eternity would be spent with the sparrows that I enjoy, and not with the grackles in my life – both bird and human.
The loud grackles who shout their deceptive and misinformed opinions from the branches.
The annoying grackles who ruin the good things in life (and poop on everything…metaphorically).
The grackles who flock together – never welcoming outsiders – because it’s safer and easier.
The grackles that bully others and steal from the vulnerable.
As much as I wish that Jesus would say the things that would make me comfortable, he doesn’t. Because God values both the sparrows and the grackles (and the peacocks and the raptors and the ostriches…and…and…) equally. While I often hope that God would look on with contempt at the people who annoy me, or are rude to me, or seem to ruin all the good things in life, I know better. I know that God looks on…and loves…and cares for them just as much as God looks on, loves, and cares for me.
For God, the sparrows and the grackles are the same – both beloved creations, both tended with grace, mercy, and love, both adored and sought after. And that’s good news, because honestly, we are each a grackle to someone’s sparrow! There will always be grackles in our lives: people we don’t like…people we find messy…people we disagree with…but God loves us all. And we should do our best to do the same.
much love. sheth.