Matthew 6:26. Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27. And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his stature?
Here He cites an analogy and a comparison in support of His admonition. With ridicule and derision He scoffs at our miserable greed and concern for our bellies, to rescue us from it, to point out to us what we really are, and to make us thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. We are something much higher, nobler, and better than the birds. We are lords not only over the birds but over all living creatures, and everything was given to us for our use and created for our sakes. Still we do not have enough faith to rely upon being provided for with all these things that God has given and supplied for us. Nevertheless He daily supplies nourishment and food to the smallest birds—and even to the littlest worms, which are the tiniest among our servants—without any concern or thought on their part at all. They do not gather anything, and they do not lay up provisions. They do not sow, and they do not reap what has been sown.
Now is it not a crying shame that we cannot entrust our bellies to God without concern or greed, we to whom He has given and supplied all creatures and for whom He lets so much grow every year that we have enough to sow and much more to reap? If anyone has a reason for being concerned and for harvesting, it is the little birds. They cannot do any sowing, and when summer is approaching, they might think: “You see, now the whole world is sowing its grain in order to harvest it in the summer. Then or in the autumn, everyone will be harvesting and gathering. But we do not have a solitary grain to sow or to reap. Where will we find food for the rest of the year, especially in the cold winter, when everything has been gathered in and nothing is left in the fields?” What would we men do for a single summer if we did not have anything to sow? In fact, if we could not count on having supplies for a two-week period, how desperate the whole world would become, as if we were all starving! Now summer and winter the little birds keep on flying in the air, singing and frolicking, without a worry or concern in the world, even though they do not know where their next meal is coming from. But we greedy bellies are so wretched that we cannot stop worrying, even if we have our barns and granaries filled and see the grain growing abundantly in the fields.
You see, He is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers. It is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the Gospel a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest of men, and daily should emphasize this to our eyes and ears, as if he were saying to us: “Look, you miserable man! You have house and home, money and property. Every year you have a field full of grain and other plants of all sorts, more than you ever need. Yet you cannot find peace, and you are always worried about starving. If you do not know that you have supplies and cannot see them before your very eyes, you cannot trust God to give you food for one day. Though we are innumerable, none of us spends his living days worrying. Still God feeds us every day.” In other words, we have as many teachers and preachers as there are little birds in the air. Their living example is an embarrassment to us. Whenever we hear a bird singing toward heaven and proclaiming God’s praises and our disgrace, we should feel ashamed and not even dare to lift up our eyes. But we are as hard as stone, and we pay no attention even though we hear the great multitude preaching and singing every day.
Look at what else the dear little birds do. Their life is completely unconcerned, and they wait for their food solely from the hands of God. Sometimes people cage them up to hear them sing. Then they get food in abundance, and they ought to think: “Now I have plenty. I do not have to be concerned about where my food is coming from. Now I have a rich master, and my barns are full.” But they do not do this. When they are free in the air, they are happier and fatter. Their singing of Lauds and of Matins to their Lord early in the morning before they eat is more excellent and more pleasant. Yet none of them knows of a single grain laid away in store. They sing a lovely, long Benedicite and leave their cares to our Lord God, even when they have young that have to be fed. Whenever you listen to a nightingale, therefore, you are listening to an excellent preacher. He exhorts you with this Gospel, not with mere simple words but with a living deed and an example. He sings all night and practically screams his lungs out. He is happier in the woods than cooped up in a cage, where he has to be taken care of constantly and where he rarely gets along very well or even stays alive. It is as if he were saying: “I prefer to be in the Lord’s. kitchen. He has made heaven and earth, and He Himself is the cook and the host. Every day He feeds and nourishes innumerable little birds out of His hand. For He does not have merely a bag full of grain, but heaven and earth.”
Now Christ says: “Every day you see before your very eyes how the heavenly Father feeds the little birds in the field, without any concern on their part. Can you not trust Him to feed you as well, since He is your Father and calls you His children? Shall He not be concerned about you, whom He has made His children and to whom He gives His Word and all creatures, more than about the little birds, which are not His children but your servants? And yet He thinks enough of them to feed them every day, as if they were the only thing He is concerned about. And He enjoys it when they fly around and sing without a care in the world, as if they were saying: ‘I sing and frolic, and yet I do not know of a single grain that I am to eat. My bread is not baked yet, and my grain is not planted yet. But I have a rich Master who takes care of me while I am singing or sleeping. He can give me more than all my worries and the worries of all people could ever accomplish.’ ” Now, since the birds have learned so well the art of trusting Him and of casting their cares from themselves upon God, we who are His children should do so even more. Thus this is an excellent illustration that puts us all to shame. We, who are rational people and who have the Scriptures in addition, do not have enough wisdom to imitate the birds. When we listen to the little birds singing every day, we are listening to our own embarrassment before God and the people. But after his fall from the word and the commandment of God, man became crazy and foolish; and there is no creature alive which is not wiser than he. A little finch, which can neither speak nor read, is his theologian and master in the Scriptures, even though he has the whole Bible and his reason to help him.
To this first analogy He now attaches a saying based upon our experience, which shows that our concern is useless and unavailing. “Who is there among you,” He says, “who can add one cubit to his stature, even though he may be concerned about it? If the only way for a man to grow up were for him to be concerned about it, how tall would any of us grow? Or what good does it do a little dwarf to worry himself to death about becoming taller? What do you accomplish with your concern about your food and clothing, about where your food and clothing are coming from, as if it lay in your power to make your body as big and as tall as you pleased? The length and width of your body with all its members has been allotted to you; you cannot do anything about it, and He dares you to make it taller by a hair’s breadth. What a fool you are then! You are concerned about something that does not lie within your power, whereas God has already allotted its duration and size to you and has specified how long your body and life is to endure. And you cannot trust Him to provide you with both food and clothing as long as you have to live here!”
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:196). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.