It’s always this time of year that I struggle over a particular part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Every spring, we have an insane amount of birds in our trees around our house which undoubtedly always leads to me performing “last rites” for a handful of baby birds that die in our yard. Last spring we had 13 die. This spring it has been 7 so far. I buried three today, the worst one being a bird that was close to hatching but fell in the storm last night and died. It was pretty gross, so I’ll stop there with the description. Every time I go to bury another bird, my mind immediately goes to Jesus’ words in his famous sermon. My wife, the animal lover that she is, was the one that pointed out to me a few years ago that Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 are not all that comforting if that is what he is trying to accomplish, and I can see her point.
In the sermon, Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 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. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25–33)
Jesus is meaning to address issues of “this life” in this particular section of the Sermon on the Mount, and he picks two images that are poetic, yet unnerving in a sense. Those two metaphors are birds and flowers. Good choice, right? Who doesn’t love watching a majestic bird flying? What girl doesn’t love flowers? Yet these are two metaphors that point to something beyond the fact that they are beautiful creations by God. They are also metaphors, I believe, that intend to tell us that this life is temporary. If I were going to pick a symbol from the animal and plant kingdoms, I would pick something more dominant, sturdy and longer lasting like a lion and an oak tree. Not Jesus, though. In his infinite wisdom he picks images that are beautiful, yet extremely fragile. Birds aren’t the “sturdiest” of creatures. If they actually make it to the flying stage and out of my yard, they are likely to be shot by young kids playing with a BB gun or hunters wanting entertainment. Lilies are beautiful, but don’t expect them to be around from last Valentine’s Day if you buy them for your loved one as a gift. Ecclesiastes 9:12 sums this aspect of life up really well: “Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” This life is temporary and we never know how it will end for us. We just know it will end.
While Jesus’ words are not all that comforting on the surface (in light of the massacre that happens at the Herbert house in spring time), I think they are most importantly truthful, and actually can be comforting on a much deeper level. Jesus tells us not to worry because God cares for us. And when I think about all of the ways He takes care of His creation, I am comforted by his words. On top of that, we know as Christians that our future is secure past the grave because of the hope we have in Jesus. In all of this, I hear Jesus telling me that this life is extremely fragile. This life is full of beauty for sure, but it is also packed with pain. In the midst of this beautiful/fragile life, Jesus tells us we are loved and cared for by our creator. So I encourage you to sit with Jesus’ words, to understand that this life is fragile, and to understand that death is not the end of your story. And if you begin to despair over things that are tough about this life, take a minute to remind yourself of the beauty found in Christ and gain an eternal perspective. Paul would say it this way: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2–3)