One of the mysteries of nature is the migration of birds. For thousands of years people have pondered the question of how and why some birds migrate. In fact, some have wondered if the real question shouldn’t be, why don’t all birds migrate? Flight gives birds such a huge advantage in finding new sources of food and good places to breed, that it is strange that not more birds migrate. I’m no expert on bird migration, but I do know this. Most birds that do migrate follow a path directly over my car.
Probably the most famous of all migratory birds are the swallows from the San Juan Capistrano Mission in California. Each year, on or about the 23rd of October, they head south. Can you blame them? They’ve been listening to those priests for seven months. If the folks at the mission are to be believed, the birds actually circle the mission once before flying off. Of course, these folks at the mission are interested in encouraging tourism, so I am a little skeptical about their claim.
In any event, the flight of these amazing birds will take them 6000 miles to Argentina and it is reported that none has ever lost a piece of luggage. Then, on or about the 19th of March, they return to the mission where they begin rebuilding their mud nests. No airline can touch their on-time record
In the sixth chapter of John, we see something a little surprising. We are accustomed to thinking of Jesus’ followers remaining loyal to him – at least until the final week of his life. But in John 6 we heard that Jesus was beginning to say some things that put some of them off. Some followers decided to part ways. But not Peter.
It may have been instinct that brought mama bird back to the nest, but not so with Peter. Birds are hard-wired to behave as they do. No one is hard-wired, however, to follow Jesus. No, this is a matter of the will, a commitment Peter makes based on what he has seen.
The decision to follow Jesus, to find your home among his followers, to be faithful to the path he sets before us, has always been a matter of the will. We live in a world and a culture where we are certainly free to choose otherwise. There are plenty of other options out there, not all of them bad.
Peter opts for Jesus because of what he has seen and heard. Peter has found something that offers meaning and a way of living not only with others, but also, and this may be the hardest thing, a way of living with himself.
But, of course, this opting for Jesus is not a once-and-for-all thing. We know that Peter will later, more than once, choose differently. His own words, “to whom can we go” will come back to haunt him because he finds that other, safer options are sometimes very appealing.
Following Jesus is not the instinctual return of the mother bird to her nest. It is a choice of our wills, a decision we make because we have found the words and deeds of Jesus to make more sense of our world than anything we have found elsewhere. “Forgive your enemies,” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Have pity on the least of these,” “Take the log out of your own eye before you remove the mite from your brother’s eye.” It is hard not to find him attractive. I like to tell my confirmation classes: don’t follow Jesus because someone said to, but because you see something worth emulating
I Kings 8: 41 – 43 is a short piece out of a long prayer King Solomon delivered at the dedication of the new temple in Jerusalem some 900 years before Jesus. A lot of that prayer is pretty predictable stuff, so I’m not touching on all of it here, but I am touched by these three verses in chapter 8 I referenced. These would have been scriptures Jesus would have been familiar with and I bet he was also touched by these same verses. In these few verses Solomon is asking God’s grace on those foreigners who might journey into Jerusalem. It is one of those marvelous places in the Hebrew Scriptures where the Israelites manage to rise above their normal parochial prejudices for a moment and desire for foreigners the same goodness they have experienced. That’s a rare kind of broadness of vision to find in the ancient world. It’s not exactly common in our modern world, either.
Perhaps the good news to be gleaned from Solomon’s prayer is that God does not abandon those who have chosen a different path altogether. In their own way, like the swallows of San Juan Capistrano, all shall find their way home to the nest. Amen.