Friday, April 13, 2007

for the birds

I've always been attracted to the puzzle that resides in Matthew 24:

26: So, if they say to you, `Lo, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out; if they say, `Lo, he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it.
27: For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man.
28: Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
(Also in Luke 17:37)

The omni-present experience of Christ's return is certainly a transcendent concept that the lightning imagery can help us understand. Similar apocalyptic descriptions echo throughout the Bible in Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the Gospels and Revelation and provide ample witness to the degree of tumult (both personal and communal) that we can expect when this age is consummated. However, the imagery of the eagles swarming to the body is a mystery to me? What are these birds, and what body are they swarming to? Are they good, evil, or neutral agents of inevitable consequence?

Lately I've been stumbling upon that image in other parts of scripture, so my fascination is growing, as is my belief that in this Gospel reference there lies an interpretive key for the wider understanding of our faith that shouldn't be overlooked. Much like when Jesus utters the first words of Psalm 22 from the cross, or when he quotes Daniel in front of Caiaphas (Matthew 26:64), there is a proclamation of immense importance being delivered at a crucial time. Here are a couple examples with exact replicas of Christ's imagery. There are also many more verses that reference the swarming, swooping, and hunting of birds (vultures, eagles, ravens et al) in justly retributive sense, or as confusing attacks on those cast out of the sight of the Lord.

Genesis 15
9: He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon."
10: And he brought him all these, cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.
11: And when birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

Job 39
26: "Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads his wings toward the south?
27: Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?
28: On the rock he dwells and makes his home in the fastness of the rocky crag.
29: Thence he spies out the prey; his eyes behold it afar off.
30: His young ones suck up blood; and where the slain are, there is he."

I'm going to dig deeper on this issue. If anyone is reading this and has resource suggestions, please ante up.

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