(This story is adapted from “Robin Redbreast” by Selma Lagerlof found in the book, “Easter Stories” by Plough Publishing House.)
There is a story about how the robin redbreast bird received its distinctive red color. The story begins on the day of creation when God created all of the birds. After God formed the bird, he would paint it a beautiful mix of colors and give it life and the bird would fly forth from the hand of God singing! God arrived at the last bird but all the colors God had in his paint pot were used up except for a dull gray color. God painted the bird all in gray, told the bird that it would be called “Robin Redbreast” and it flew forth from his hand.
At first the bird flew and sang and looked upon all the world from the sky. The bird saw all of the other birds in their amazing colors and became curious as to what he looked like. The bird landed by a pond and looked at himself in the reflection of the water. He was all gray! There was not a speck of red to be found on him!
The little bird flew back to our Lord. Landing in our Lord’s hand, the bird asked, “Why should I be called Redbreast, when I am all gray from my beak to the very end of my tail?” The Lord smiled at the little bird and said, “I have called you Robin Redbreast, and Robin Redbreast shall your name be, but you must look to it that you, yourself earn your red breast feathers.” The Lord opened his hand and the little gray bird flew forth deeply thoughtful.
What could a little bird do to earn red feathers? The only thing that the bird could think to do was to make his nest in a briar bush, among the thorns, hoping that a petal from the red rose would cling to his breast and give it color. But this never happened. Generations of birds came and went; generations build their nests among the briars but the bird remained gray. Every generation would pass on the words of the Lord hoping that one day they would gain their red feathers.
The little ones would ask their parents if the birds had never tried to do anything to earn the red mark. “We have done what we could,” they would say, “but we have yet to earn the color. The first little robin redbreast met another bird exactly like himself, he loved her with such a mighty love that he could feel his heart glow. He thought that surely that would change his feathers red but even though the love was strong it did not bring the red color. Another redbreast thought song would turn her chest red. She sang the most beautiful songs but even though it filled her with great joy to sing and all the other animals would stop to listen her feathers remained gray. Another robin thought courage and valor would earn the red color. He was courageous in defending his nest and little ones and other birds but that did not do it either.” The little birds would peep sadly, thinking they would never earn the red mark.
Now, it happened once that there was a small robin redbreast nest in a briar bush on a hill outside of Jerusalem. In the nest was three young ones and their father who was feeding them. Suddenly, the father cried out “Be quiet!” and he covered the little ones with the span of his wings. A great crowd of people marched past them. There were soldiers, and priests in long robes, a howling mob of people and in the midst of them all were three men carrying crosses.
The Robin Redbreast father watched the whole horrible scene even as he shielded his little ones. “This is horrible,” he said, “why are the humans so cruel to their own? There is even one who has to wear a crown of thorns that is piercing his forehead! I see blood flowing from his wounds! And this man is so peaceful and looks on everyone with such love. I feel like an arrow is piercing my heart when I look on him.”
“Even if I am just a little bird, I can still do something for this poor man.” The bird flew toward the man on the cross, he circled around him a few times and when he gained the courage he softly landed and pulled out a thorn that was imbedded in the forehead of the man. It was a little gesture but the man looked on the bird with gratitude. Some blood from the man’s forehead fell on the breast of the little gray bird and colored the feathers a crimson red.
As soon as the bird returned to his nest his young ones cried out to him, “Your breast is red! Your feathers are redder than the roses!” “It is only a drop of blood from the poor man’s forehead,” replied the bird. It will vanish when I bathe in the spring. But no matter how much the little bird bathed, the red color did not vanish and when his young ones grew up the red mark showed up on their feathers also. There it remains on all Robin Redbreast’s until this very day – red from the wounds of Christ.
The little bird received mercy from our Lord and he also lived that mercy as he brought comfort to our Lord on the cross. On this Divine Mercy Sunday, may we learn from this little story of the Robin Redbreast.