A reflection on the readings for Proper 18B - James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17; Mark 7:24-37
Birds of all sizes, shapes, colors, and varieties are lined up on the railing of the deck. Others are happily pecking away at the feeder. And then - woosh! - they are gone! – scattered to hiding places in nearby bushes. I can always tell when the hawk is around by the split second reaction of the birds!
The other day I saw the red- tail hawk fly out of the large pine tree in front of the church and swoop across the community garden to the golf course. It’s flown off the roof of the rectory, too.
This hawk has a broad wing span which enables it to soar and hover in the air. If the winds are just right, the hawk can fly to a fixed point and maintain its position by controlling the air flow around its body with minute wing and tail movements all the while keeping its head perfectly still. Its piercing eyes can detect the slightest movement of prey. [i]
One of the largest birds you’ll see in North America, the biggest female red-tail weighs only three pounds. A similar-sized small dog might weigh 10 times that.
I’m thinking about birds, in particular bird feathers, because the other day I heard an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Thor Hansen, a conservationist and biologist. He was talking about his book, “Feather: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle”.
“There are many things in nature that have beautifully adapted to a single purpose. But feathers have adapted too many purposes: the diversity of feathers in form and function is unique; they can offer a stunning display of color for attraction and mating; enable and enhance flight; offer warmth or provide cooling; a fine insulation, many feathers are also water-proof.”
The first evidence of feathers appears in fossils of theropod dinosaurs such as the tyrannosaurus, and other two-footed dinosaurs. These feathers were not aerodynamic. Most likely dinosaurs had feathers to keep them warm or prevent overheating.
A birds’ coat of feathers outweighs its skeleton two to one.
Feathers are made of protein – beta-keratin which is also the primary protein in hair. This protein makes the feather lightweight, durable, and easily takes on color. If one pinches or cuts the pin-feathers of a baby bird, the broken feather will bleed because the barbs of the feather are alive. Because the growth of a feather is complex the outcome is complex – many different kinds of feathers can be developed.
The barbs on the feather interlock as they grow creating complex interactions that enable the bird to fly.
The wing of a bird is air foil shaped, having a curve, that gives birds an extra lift. Not only the wings but the individual feathers are air foil shaped – so feathers and wings work together to automatically adapt to wind, temperature, and other factors in flying.
Feathers are the most efficient insulation known.
Feathers can be water proof. If the feather and coating over the belly of a water bird is damaged the bird will suffer from hypothermia. Ornithologists thought bird feathers were water proof due to oil in the feather. Oil plays a role, but it is the structure that is water proof.
The color of feathers is also evolutionary. Males have bright colors to encourage and entice females. Females have more subtle colors for protection, allowing them to blend into the environment as they sit on nests and protect the young. Adapting is built into the DNA of creation, a gift from God, one might say.
The Season of Creation, our five week series which begins today and ends with the blessing of the animals on Oct. 7, challenges us to re-orient our relationship with creation. We are challenged to return to our biblical roots to rediscover our intimate connections with creation. We are challenged to see ourselves again as part of the very Earth from which we are made.
Sallie McFague, a Christian theologian speaks of the world as God’s body. Tending to the world and all that lives is tending to God.
Two themes run through our readings this morning:
· who are we?
· And, what are we doing?
Both James and the Gospel of Mark remind us of who are – we are ALL God’s people.
James speaks of who one is, but more important, James says, how one acts as a person of faith.
The Season of Creation reminds us that, we are members of God’s creation. As members of God’s creation we are to care equally for all human beings, all creatures of the earth, and the earth itself. All of life, all creation is interconnected.
Therefore, as Bruce Epperly, a spiritual director and theologian writes in his commentary on today’s readings,
“Any healing act contributes to the well-being of the part as well as the whole and reflects our commitment to be God’s global healing partners.” [ii]
Some scholars believe the Gospel of Mark was written in order to show how God is active, for our sake, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. [iii] In Jesus God manifests God’s transformational love for all.
Jesus shuns a Syrophoenician woman. The woman – a Gentile and a pagan lives outside the community Jesus normally deals with. It’s startling to hear, but Jesus calls her a dog. This does not seem like the Jesus we know….
There are many different scholarly perspectives on why Jesus acts this way. Perhaps the most reasonable is that Jesus is on a mission. He is focused on that mission and, in his haste, he brushes this woman aside.[iv]
But, when Jesus shuns her like a stray dog, she pushes back. She boldly proclaims God’s love for everyone including those deemed as dogs and outsiders.
Perhaps in this story Jesus is just like you and me – busy, focused, distracted, not paying full attention….and then he experiences a woman who opens his eyes to what he is doing – and who she really is – and he changes his mind. He shows compassion and heals her daughter.
Scripture offers us several examples of the divine mind being changed – Abraham and Moses both change God’s mind several times. This woman changes Jesus’s mind.
It leaves me thinking that the ability to adapt is a kind of divine intervention built into creation by God’s design. Adaptation designed to move us, like divine DNA, like birds of a feather, toward compassion, reconciliation, and love.