Doves and pigeons are often stigmatised as dirty birds. However, this description is completely false.
The Lord Jesus said to his disciples that they should be “innocent as doves” in their mission in the world (Matt. 10:16). What exactly did he mean by this analogy about these particular birds? In what sense can doves be considered innocent?
Nowadays, in our urban settings, doves and pigeons are often stigmatised as dirty birds that carry disease. They have even been called “flying rats”.
However, this description is completely false. Not even the less attractive pigeons that frequent our cities can be compared with rodents.
In sanitary terms, rats are much more dangerous, unpleasant and aggressive as they can transmit many more diseases. Even dogs and cats pass on more infections than pigeons.
While it is true that we can often come across parasite-ridden pigeons in our cities, this is usually due to the unhygienic character of the environments they inhabit rather than to the nature of these birds themselves.
Pigeons – especially message-bearers, are extremely intelligent and capable of learning. They communicate with each other and can choose the best itineraries to find food and avoid predators.
If they detect a danger during their flight, the leaders of the flock notify the others so that they can change course and keep safe. They can also recognise themselves in a mirror.
They have very good eyesight, they can distinguish colours, and this enables them to associate objects with their tone, as has been demonstrated in numerous experiments. Being gregarious animals, they depend to a great extent on the group and are perfectly integrated into it.
Pigeons and doves are innocent because they do not behave with premeditation, malicious intent or duplicity. What they want is always clear to see: feeding, reproducing, seeking refuge or safety, and they do no harm in doing so.
This is evident from the curious look in their eyes, and this is what the Master was commending to his disciples. In a world that is so replete with duplicity, where it is so hard to know what people are really thinking, because dissimulation and hypocrisy are the order of the day, Jesus tells his disciples always to act with simplicity of heart, with clear and transparent intentions, that their yes should be yes and their no, no.
In fact what he wat telling them was to act as he himself acted.
Jesus Christ exalted simplicity and innocence when he said: “blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8) Having a pure heart means being simple, upright, loyal, not thinking ill of our neighbour, not lying, not betraying anyone but always acting out of respect and love.
The reward for the innocent, according to Jesus, is that they will see God face to face. That is to say, they will receive from Him a wonderful eternal, and deep experience. All believers are called to this kind of simplicity reflected by doves, and especially by the Lord Jesus himself.
He was never ostentatious or conceited. He spoke to people of all kinds, whatever their ethnicity, religion or cultural background. He preached the same thing to the poor as to the rich, and recommended to all, especially to his disciples, that they be as innocent as doves