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A New Challenge

Have you seen the movie Rio (2011)? It’s a super cute movie about a Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) who was a pet in Minnesota, but is taken to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to mate because he’s one of the last of his kind in the world. Obviously then, hijinx ensues, but everything turns out okay in the end, typical kids movie.

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As silly as the movie is, the basic plot line is based in reality. The movie came out in 2011, but since 2000 that species of bird has been listed as “extinct in the wild" by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Humans have tried to repair what their own cattle farming had destroyed, so although there have been no Spix’s Macaws in the wild, there are now around 200 in human care today around the world.

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Similar to the movie, there is a “Spix’s Macaw Action Plan” with the aim of increasing the captive population of this species through breeding. This is all well and good, but what is new and exciting is that there is also a project to reintroduce these macaws back into their natural habitat in Brazil. Thanks to successful breeding, there are enough macaws that in 2020, more than 50 Spix’s Macaws were taken to Brazil for reintroduction.

The experts have chosen the area of Caatinga (seen below) as the birds’ new habitat. This area used to be a natural habitat for Spix’s Macaws, but it was largely destroyed by cattle farming. The conservationists selected a former farm in the middle of the region and repurposed it to serve as a sanctuary for the Spix’s Macaw. This ecological pursuit will hopefully lead to a greater biodiversity and a flourishing Spix’s Macaw population in a few years.

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The last seen Spix’s Macaw in nature was a single male in 1990. Imagine being someone in Brazil under the age of 30 and you’ve never seen a Spix’s Macaw. Now all of a sudden 50 are being introduced to the area. That must be a sight to behold, these beautiful blue birds in your area. To you, this is a brand new thing, something very different from what you’re used to.

For those that know the history of this region of Brazil, they’ll understand that these birds are only “new” and not really new, but to many living in this area, they will be a truly new addition. This week the daily readings have a number of “new” teachings in the gospels. This week’s gospels go through a good portion of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-6:34).

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We may have heard these teachings many times, but to Jesus’ disciples they were new. The readings of Monday and Tuesday (Mt 5:38-48) show us the “new” extent of charity that is asked of us, to love one’s enemies. In Wednesday’s readings (Mt 5:1-6, 16-18), Jesus explains the “new” way of how our intentions should motivate all of our actions, that we should not do things solely so that others will give us praise. Thursday’s readings (Mt 6:7-15) gave the followers a “new” way to pray to the Father. The gospels of Friday and Saturday (Mt 6:19-34) make “new” demands upon the followers of Christ. They are told that they must make the Kingdom of God their only treasure and seek it above everything else.

It may be difficult for us to imagine these teachings as new, they seem to be the core of our faith’s moral beliefs, but these teachings had never before been specifically laid out in this manner. Above I had a cartoon depiction of the Sermon on the Mount and all of Jesus’ followers are smiling and happy, but in all honesty, the reaction was probably more like this.

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At the time, these teachings were new and extremely challenging. They caused many to reconsider whether they wanted to continue following Jesus. Although these teachings are no longer new, they can still be very difficult. Do we love our enemies? Do we do things with righteous intentions? Do we seek only the Kingdom and no other treasure? If we’re being honest, probably not. At least not all the time.

Spend some time this week in prayer with these readings. They will challenge you as they did the disciples he physically spoke to. The macaws are going to have a challenge, living out in the world on their own in this “new” place, but we know that this change is good for them. So too do we know that these “new” teachings of Jesus are good for us. May we listen with ears willing to hear.