The Cuckoo, Covid-19 and the Weed: Be Watchful

The Parable

There are numerous lessons in the biblical parable of the wheat and the weed (Mt 13:24-43). One could spend an entire day exploring the rich message therein. One of them is God’s breathtaking mercy and patience who allows the good and the bad to live together, granting them a long enough rope for change; also, being meticulous that a hasty action does not harm the delicate, good wheat (the righteous). We have seen this aspect in some of our previous reflections.

Another is how the roots of the weed intertwine with the roots of the wheat. The bearded darnel, which is the most likely weed the Lord was referring to, has stronger roots and durability than the wheat’s weak roots. It is not surprising that evil has a more persuasive and louder voice than the good. One spiritual principle I have always used is that when it is the loudest, one must tread with caution. Evil tends to be the loudest, just like the empty vessels echo the loudest.

Moreover, the darnel’s mimicry of wheat is off the chart. Worse, it is a poisonous plant. Yet, in the story, the Lord counsels patience, to allow weed and wheat to live together until the day of reckoning—judgment.

I focus on the weed’s mimicry quality and how lack of vigilance allows the con master to sow the bad seed. I will use a beautiful story from the animal kingdom to relate to this parable; drawing some crucial lessons to encourage our spiritual vigilance.

Mimicry Parasites

You may have heard about some animals who naturally reproduce by nesting on other animals. They are generally called brood parasites. It is so because they con other animals to raise their babies. This behavior is found among some fish, insects, and birds.

Cuckoo. Image by Piotr Krzeslak from Getty Images Pro © Canva Pro. Used with purchased license.

One of the most notorious among this set of animals are the Common Cuckoos (Cuculus canorus). Ornithologists have long paid close attention to the mimicry and parasitic behaviors of these birds. Davis and Welbergen, in their experimental test of Cuckoo-hawk mimicry (2008), for example, investigated how Cuckoos tend to be effective in their impersonating behavior. They suggest that due to the Cuckoos’ copycat of sparrow hawks, they are protected from being preyed upon by real hawks. They equally take advantage of weaker birds by domineering influence in others to execute their brood parasitism.[1]

The Cuckoo’s manipulation, if not deceit, is reinforced by two qualities. First, it looks like a common hawk, when it is not, and takes advantage of its color patterns to mimic hawks. So, smaller birds fear it as the hawk and avoid it. Second, because it looks like a hawk, nesting birds sighting the Cuckoo could fly away from its freshly laid eggs while the Cuckoo steps in and lays its own egg in the same nest. It could lay as many single eggs as possible in different nests. It stays at a distance and monitors the entire scheme as the poor, unsuspecting mother birds incubate the infiltrated eggs. One of the Cuckoo’s regular victims is the Reed Warbler.

Often, when the Cuckoo hatches, due to its size, it elbows out the Warbler chicks, the nest’s real owners. At the same time, the poor mother birds (e.g., Reed Warbler) feed it from their toils as the deceitful mother Cuckoo watches from a distance. It is deceit at all fronts—from the scaring of the other mother birds by mimicking a hawk, laying a false egg, and now feeding by the unsuspecting mother birds. 

The worst-case scenario is the actual displacement of the real birds. Due to the bigger size of the Cuckoo, as the unsuspecting Warblers feed the birds, the Cuckoo’s chick’s dominance and size displace the smaller birds. They often fall from the nests and die, while the unsuspecting mother birds feed the parasitic Cuckoo. 

The Cuckoo matures and flies away, whereas the mother birds lose everything, their chicks, motherly care, and time. Sometimes, the Cuckoo displaces the Warblers entirely from the territory.

One could compare the above scenario to the parable which the Lord told us, using the weed in the wheat. While we are unsuspecting as devout Catholics or Christians, evil agents come and lay the bad seed. It is just like the Cuckoo deceives the unsuspecting mother bird and plants its egg.

The Cuckoo Typology and the Spiritual Life

Many things can make us asleep, spiritually unaware of the nature of the field in which we operate. In my opinion, worldliness is one of the chiefs of them. Worldliness makes us not see the difference between the sacred and the worldly. It makes us not understand the deeper meaning in many things around us. It makes us take things at their face value and accept evil excuses and call them good. 

The situation of Covid-19 has pushed us as Church to think deeply about our ability to fight and our commitment to spiritual vigilance. While a few understand the spiritual repercussions of less availability of grace opportunities for believers, it seems many do not care. I wonder if this kind of sleep would not produce much more weed in the apostolate’s field.

As a priest, this affects me too. I have found myself slipping from time to time and offering excuses. You see, commitments to the life of the sacraments and prayer, and keen attention to God’s Word, deepen spiritual vigilance. It is not a skill one learns by oneself. It is a skill one is given by grace flowing from the divine means of grace.

If people don’t have access to the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Cuckoo is gradually taking the spots and laying the deadly eggs. Many will be starved to spiritual weakening if they don’t have a way to worship and celebrate the Sacred Eucharist. I feel pain. I am highly concerned.  

We need to rethink and recommit to the life of the Sacraments. My recommendation for the person in the pew is a commitment to the liturgical life. Yes, the Divine Office (Breviary) is a required prayer for clergy and religious in the Catholic Church. But that prayer is a Liturgical prayer. I suggest investing during this time to saying that prayer. It is liturgical worship and brings much grace.

Also, find churches around you where you can go to regular Confession and join Mass. I thank God for many parishes who have implemented different diocesan rules to celebrate Mass in small numbers and those who celebrate in open spaces. It is a brilliant way to fight the worldly spirit that is nesting in the situation of Covid-19 and doing harm to many souls.

Television and online Masses and other forms of prayer are helpful too. But these should not be taken as a substitute for searching for alternative places, closer to where you are, to celebrate the Sacraments. There are valid exceptions for those with delicate health. God understands.

As a devout believer, never allow the Cuckoo of the time to deceive you and sow the weed in the field of your spiritual life. Be watchful.

[1] Davies, N. B., & Welbergen, J. A. (2008). Cuckoo-hawk mimicry? An experimental test. Proceedings. Biological sciences275(1644), 1817–1822. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2008.0331

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Fr. Maurice Emelu

The Reverend Dr. Maurice Emelu is a media scholar, theologian, author, and a visiting assistant professor of communication at John Carroll University, USA. He is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Orlu in Nigeria and the founder of Gratia Vobis Ministries, USA.

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