Consider the Ravens...and the Lilies (Psalm 147; Luke 12:22-34)

Psalm 147 is one of my favorites. Its early verses contain the delightful paradox that the Lord of the universe also cares about ordinary human heartbreak: “[The Lord] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of stars; he gives to all of them their names” (3-4). It provides encouragement to the saints of God when chronic illness lands them in the hospital and disability robs them of their freedom. “[The Lord’s] delight is not in the strength of a horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (10-11).

This week, my attention is drawn to an easily overlooked line in Psalm 147 focused somewhere between deep space and the human heart : “He covers the heavens with clouds; He prepares rain for the earth; He makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry” (8-9). Why? That line from the Psalm seems to underline Jesus’ words in our Gospel Reading this Sunday, where our Lord singles our ravens as an example of God’s providing (you can read the entire text here): “Do not be anxious about your life…Consider the ravens; they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” (Luke 12:22-24). Many wonder why Jesus (or the Psalmist) would have singled out an “unclean” animal (see Leviticus 11:15) as an example of a creature that depended on God’s providing. Ravens were known to eat dead things. Had they never been declared unclean, they would have been hated by farmers anyway. They have been documented to be destroyers of fruit crops, consumers of young grain…even scavengers of sick livestock. It isn’t unreasonable to assume that people in Jesus’ day would have done everything they could to PREVENT ravens from helping themselves to their own foodstuffs. When our family lived in a suburb of Tokyo years ago, our landlord had to enact crow abatement just to keep these intelligent creatures from swooping in to consume whatever was available at neighborhood barbecues and picnics. I suspect it’s due to more than just a connection to Edgar Allan Poe and his famous poem that the raven became the mascot of a professional team you may have heard about! Whether the children of Israel identified with the dreaded raven or were inclined to guard their stuff from animals like them, Jesus’ message and the message of Psalm 147 align: Stop worrying. If even the ravens, the animals you stop at nothing to chase away from your crops and sheep get all they need to eat, won’t God take care of you, his true treasure, as well?

“Ah, but if only it were that easy, Jesus!” we want to say. This was a week after (at least) two actions of mass violence across our nation. Worry is the spontaneous outcome of our doubts about God, our ready faith in the false religion that no matter how big our God is…the world looms larger. Jesus’ reply? “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (12:32). Do you have to DO something in order to get the good gifts of God? No. Not only are we fed and our bodies clothed. The gift of the Kingdom…a relationship with a heavenly Provider who gives us and those we love what we truly need: connection with a Good Giver whom our eyes cannot see yet whose actions on behalf of mere birds and flowers show us that many of our future preoccupations are misguided and even self-destructive…that is what our heart and spirit long for! Even should it seem at times that our most fervent prayers go unanswered, faith empowered by God’s promises and by God’s Holy Word is a gift that God delights in giving! E. Stanley Jones once put it like this: “We are inwardly constructed in nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul, for faith and not for fear. God made us that way. To live by worry is to live against reality.” In Jesus Christ, even the most inadequate faith is perfected and made holy.

No matter how big the world looks, God is bigger. The next time you wonder about that, pause for a moment and reread Psalm 147. Or check out the ravens. Stop and notice the flowers. Take a deep breath. There is a lot in the world in need of redemption. Maybe God is poised to use you and me in some way to bring that redemption about. But in Christ Jesus there is nothing to fear!