• Kevin Burrell

Cockatoo: The House Thrown In

When I think about Jesus’ exhortation to store up treasures in heaven, I think of parrots. Four in particular.


In our first year of marriage, an older couple from our church invited my wife Bev and me to their home to ‘meet the parrots.’ This couple and their four adopted psittacines lived in a large, beautiful home in a gorgeous neighborhood in a coveted section of town outside of Orlando. Their community was set amongst elegant live-oak shade, and their home was large and open, bright with Florida sun. In the back sunroom (a Florida architectural staple), there were four large cages, each a loving and thoughtful habitat created for one of their feathered family members. One housed an African grey parrot, and another a sulphur-crested cockatoo. I believe two largish-sized conures rounded out the quartet.

Sulphur-crested cockatoo in Sydney, Australia, 2003.

The humans moved to the living room to chat. This proved difficult. Did you know that a cockatoo’s screech can be heard up to five miles away? In fact, it’s a species of cockatoo (the Moluccan) that holds the record for the loudest bird on the planet: 135 decibels, roughly equivalent to a custom car stereo at full volume. So if a cockatoo in the adjoining room wants to get your attention, he’s got it.

And then there’s the African grey. He’s not quite as loud, but he makes up for it in attitude. African greys are sometimes called ‘growlers’; when they’re threatened or scared (or possibly just bored) they can produce a very impressively loud rumble. Think ‘nails on a chalkboard.’

As the humans continued their conversation (and by ‘conversation’ I mean plenty of ‘What did you say?’ and ‘Can you repeat that?’) Bev and I realized that this couple was proposing the possibility of including us in their will as the birds’ caretakers. Remember that this proposal is being made to the soundtrack of an aviary at dawn; imagine having a heartfelt power-of-attorney conversation on the front row of a Metallica concert. So the details were a little fuzzy. But my decibel-meter picked up this much; this couple’s kids were grown with families of their own, and none of them had an interest in taking custody of Mom and Dad’s birds. Expecting that their parrots would survive them, as is common with exotic birds, our friends wanted to ensure a continuity of care.

As a youth pastor with an active slate of camps, mission trips, and an unpredictable schedule—and as newlyweds who enjoyed travel—we knew that these birds would need more stable caretakers. We were told that these particular birds might not tolerate the absence of their owners for more than about twelve hours; my Sundays alone would test those thresholds. And the noise. Oh, the noise. Clearly this was out of the question.

And then our friends said, “But if you could take the birds, we’d also give you the house.”

Honestly when they said this, I wasn’t sure that I’d heard them correctly; they said it so matter-of-factly. And remember that a bird-rowdy sunroom was making every second or third word of our conversation inaudible. But a few minutes later they said it again.

“If you could take the birds, we’d also give you the house.”

Established neighborhood. Coveted section of town.

Perhaps our travel plans were negotiable.

In the end, of course, we couldn’t seriously entertain this idea; keeping parrots requires a steady predictable nurture, and our lifestyle of ministry-flexibility would be a deal-breaker. But looking back on that conversation, I realize that our friends beautifully portrayed the heart of God in their request.

“If you take care of the things that I value most, you will inherit so much more.”

Jesus doesn’t tell us not to pursue treasure; he simply challenges our perishable pursuits with a different sort of investment. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20) He tells us to invest not in the decaying and destructible, but in the eternal. He holds that carrot in front of our nose, and asks us to pursue what truly lasts.

What are the only things that truly last? It’s a short list. In fact, by my count it’s just five things: God, his word, his kingdom, the souls of men and women, and the things that make us more like Christ. These are the things God values most. These are the places he calls us to set our hearts and our efforts, knowing that—if you don’t mind me reversing the well-known phrase—“Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.”

When we invest in those places, a reward awaits. So what’s the reward? Is it an extra jewel in the crown? A gold star on Heaven’s classroom sticker chart? Coupons?

Actually, from what we can gather from the hints of Scripture, it’s a whole lot better than that. Clearly the ultimate reward is him. It’s the dawning of the joyous reality that “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs 6:3) Would you want it any other way? God simply cannot give us anything that gives us more pleasure than him. This is the treasure that overwhelms the senses. Yes, he gives us the house; he prepares a place for us (John 14:2-3). Yes, he deeds us all the rights of sons and daughters of the king. But it’s all a treasure set in the context of a relationship. The real treasure is him.

“Care for what I care for, and you’ll get the whole shebang.” You’ll get the house thrown in. Better yet, you’ll get an eternity with its builder.