Texts: Deuteronomy 22:1-4, 6. Matthew 12:9-12; 10:29-31
Monday morning Karin and I were camped at French Beach Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. Late in the morning we returned to our campsite from a walk on the beach. I went to get something out of the car. While rummaging around in the back seat, I heard a beep. At first I didn’t pay it any attention, but it continued, somewhat irregularly. It sounded like an electronic alarm, maybe a low battery signal or something like that.
I opened the front door and listened. It continued. Beep. Pause. Beep. Pause. Beep. I looked under the front seat to see if we had dropped some electronic gizmo. Nothing. I stuck my head up in the space beneath the dash and above the accelerator and brake pedal. The beeping was close, but it did not seem to be coming from under the dash. I checked the instrument panel again to see if some indicator light was flashing. Nothing.
I stepped back, puzzled. Then I noticed something on the floor between the drivers seat and the driver’s side door. A bit of fur or a large moth. I look more closely and then it beeped. Or chirped. It was a hummingbird, a tiny hummingbird, sitting there chirping its distress.
When I reached down to pick it up, it did not fly away or even scramble. I called Karin over and we began trying to figure out what to do with it.
The car windows had been down three or four inches, so I figured the bird had flown into the car in the early morning and then been unable to figure out how to escape. It was now 11:30, maybe four or five hours after the bird trapped itself. Hummingbirds have incredibly fast metabolisms. They have to eat all the time. This bird was probably starving to death. It appeared uninjured. It was just too weak to fly. It could flap its wings, but the wings moved in slow motion for a hummingbird and provided no lift.
We tracked down a park ranger who offered the bird some sugar water. The hummingbird drank it eagerly, but was still too weak to fly. Not to worry, the ranger said. There was a local animal rescue organization which would send out a volunteer to fetch our bird and transport it to a shelter where it would be nursed back to health and released. The ranger made the call and Karin and I left for the rest of our day’s adventures. The next morning the ranger gave us an update. The bird had arrived safely at the shelter and was being cared for there. A complete recovery was expected.
It was a happily ever after ending.
It is a wonderful tale of rescue and redemption. A whole network of humans cooperated to extend the life of this tiny bird that weighed less than my car keys.
This story reminds me of a story in the Gospel.
On a Sabbath, Jesus went into their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus. [Matthew 12:9-14 NLT. Accessed through Blue Letter Bible.com.]
Jesus did not tell the Pharisees that they should be kind to animals. He took that for granted. Even these hard-core fundamentalists had a deep, instinctive regard for animals. If a sheep fell into a well, the whole neighborhood would mount a rescue operation. No one would ask questions about Sabbath keeping until the rescue was successfully completed. An animal in trouble was a summons to engagement.
For Jewish people, in addition to this basic human instinct they had the words of the Bible. God had commanded people to respond to animals in need. Even animals were part of the household of God.
If you see your neighbor’s ox or sheep or goat wandering away, don’t ignore your responsibility. Take it back to its owner. 2 If its owner does not live nearby or you don’t know who the owner is, take it to your place and keep it until the owner comes looking for it. Then you must return it. 3 Do the same if you find your neighbor’s donkey, clothing, or anything else your neighbor loses. Don’t ignore your responsibility. 4 “If you see that your neighbor’s donkey or ox has collapsed on the road, do not look the other way. Go and help your neighbor get it back on its feet! … 6 “If you happen to find a bird’s nest in a tree or on the ground, and there are young ones or eggs in it with the mother sitting in the nest, do not take the mother with the young. [Deuteronomy 22:1-4, 6 NLT, accessed through Blue Letter Bible.com]
At first glance, we might think these rules are motivated solely by concern for the neighbor. Animals were important elements of the economy. If something happened to your neighbor’s donkey or ox that could have a devastating financial impact. But while the economic concern is valid, the text clearly goes way beyond that kind of crash capitalist concern. Along side concern for our neighbor’s property, the text clearly expresses a profound regard for the welfare of the animal itself.
Part of being human is care for the rest of creation. Part of being Christian is agreement with the words of the hymn:
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.
Regard for animals is deeply rooted in American culture. All the way back in 1641, the Massachusetts General Court enacted a legal code titled “Body of Liberties.” Sections 92–93 prohibited “any Tyranny or Cruelty towards any brute Creature which are usually kept for man’s use.” The law also mandated periodic rest and refreshment for any “Cattle” being driven or led.
These early American settlers were Puritans. They were strict devotees of the Bible. The Bible required humane treatment of animals, so they wrote into their laws an obligation to treat our animals in a moral fashion.
I began with a story about a lost little hummingbird. It’s a sweet story, a cute story. It is hard to imagine any American not cheering on our rescue operation. But this story is not really about hummingbirds.
What is the price of two sparrows–one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31 NLT (Accessed through Blue Letter Bible.com)
Wednesday evening, Cypress Adventist School held its graduation service a the Edmonds Church. The speaker was Marilyn Jordan. Her talk was funny and affectionate. It was full of good advice and affirmation of the potential and value of the graduate. She wrapped up her speech by exhorting him to be kind to animals. Every good person is kind to animals, Marilyn said.
Which is true. Every good person is kind to animals.
And if it is true, that good people are kind to animals, how much greater is the truth that good people are kind to humans—whether those humans were born in Seattle or Tegucigalpa or Dakar. Whether they are successful or losers, capable or crippled.
The Lord God made them all.