“Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!”
“Torturing care is the poor man’s form of worldliness; as luxurious self-indulgence is the rich man’s. There are two kinds of gout, as doctors tell us—one from high living, and one from poverty of blood.1”
Visions of ravens hardly summons thoughts of sublime beauty or graceful elegance in the world of birds. They are rarely the boast of bird watchers or the prize subjects of artists. Their images are often associated with sinister or baleful characters in stories and fairy tales. Aesop’s fables and Grimm’s fairy stories have portrayed them most often as ominous creatures of foreboding circumstances or of malicious intelligence. The Scriptures do not raise them up much higher on the scale of preferred importance. Of the ten times these birds are referred to in Scripture, half of those times the raven is either by implication or by injunction to be woefully spoken of in deplorable terms. With such a reputation to its credit, the raven would seem to the pride and self-esteem of mankind to be a valid equivalent to compare his value in the eyes of God.
Our Lord in the context of the passage cited above is addressing the disciples on the subject of anxiousness or worldly cares. The parallel text in Matthew’s gospel; “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matt. 6:26) gives us a platform to think of ourselves in much more respectable company. We surely are exceeding in value if God’s care for the birds is that of the jeweled elegance of the peacock or the splendid grace of the swan. Now that puts us in high places, but to think in terms of a raven seems less than fitting for man’s estate, i.e., in his mind. It stands to reason that God would take consideration for such beautiful birds that best reflect man’s masterful qualities, at least that is what we like to think of ourselves. But Luke brings us back to reality when he isolates out one of the more mundane and unattractive creatures of the avian kind, a raven. But in being fair to the raven, he has risen out of the pit of dark impressions when he was selected by Noah to be the first bird to explore the new world, post flood. And it was the raven that fed Elijah by the brook Cherith. It would seem that the raven reaches the crest of respect most often when he is in service.
It is fitting then in this context that Dr. Luke finds applicable comparison with the raven and mankind when we consider that it is as we lose our pre-occupation with ourselves and our own needs that the anxiousness of life seems to melt away and all our troubles become less important when we are in a mode of service to others, rather than ourselves. Jesus had been lecturing His disciples on the causes and pitfalls of self-pre-occupation and Luke found no better imagery to suit this than that of the raven. He wants us to see that God’s care for His creation and man is not rooted in how majestic, or sublime or good or well off they are; but it is the character of God that is on display and His faithfulness to all that He has created from the most unappealing mundane portentous creature to the stateliest in the created world.
Because of the faithful and equitable character of God to provide for the raven, we can expect He will take care of the necessities of life for humankind as well. This frees man up from the bondage of self-concern and self- aggrandizement to become instruments in the work of God to care for His creation. Now that is a foreign concept in much of our world today, is it not? I think if honesty were to prevail but for one minute in contemporary human history, it would be admitted that the one thing that feeds the heart of man is his own self love and greed to build more and larger barns to house all our things that we must have to ourselves for happiness. A curious observation in this light is who looks more menacing, man or the raven? And God cares for us?
The Rev. Ray Druckenmiller is the Pastor at Manning Community Church.